The 1940s are chiefly remembered as a time of war, suffering and austerity. However, we should remember that during that decade some of our best and most creative minds were thinking about and writing about human needs and human rights.
Abraham Maslow’s paper on the “Hierarchy of Needs” and “Human Motivation” was published in 1943 – five years before the United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” – and seven years before the UN General Assembly declared 10th December as “Human Rights Day”.
It may be far from coincidental that the UN Declaration on Human Rights has similarities with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The basic requirements to live life well are set out in Maslow’s well-known pyramid.
Yet here we are, some 60+ years on, and how many adults know their universal, globally agreed rights? How many of us can state these fundamental rights let alone support them collectively? How many children even know of their existence?
Maslow’s theory of human motivation recognises our absolute needs as humans, culminating in those required to live life well – to reach states of “transcendence” or to be “fully evolved”. The UN Declaration refers to basic rights, such as food, water, shelter and clothing (Article 25) – which we do well to remember as we consider the plight of refugees from war-torn parts of our planet.
Looking at Maslow’s middle tier – needs for friendship, family, a sense of connection – these too are covered in the UN declaration in Article 16 (family and marriage rights) and Article 15 (right to a nationality).
These basic needs and the right to a nationality are just the beginning of living life well. We’re all entitled to to evolve fully, to reach our full potential, as per Maslow’s model, irrespective of where we’re born. The point of the Humans Right Declaration is that it’s supposed to be universal. Every human being should have the chance to reach the pinnacle of Maslow’s triangle. Not every human being can reach self-actualisation if their basic needs and rights are ignored.
And what of the children?
We all want our children to live life well. We want their needs to be addressed. We want them to flourish and to develop their own personalities, preferences and passions. We want them to learn, and know that they can enjoy learning for a lifetime. We want them to be empathetic – to be able to give and receive in equal measures, to know that their own needs have to be balanced with the needs of others, and that their actions should never be detrimental to others – psychologically, emotionally or physically. We want them to be physically well – to understand the capabilities of their bodies, to use their senses well. We want them to appreciate and abide by a shared set of virtues and values.
In schools, and at home, we think that every child has a right to develop all of their intelligences – to be able to learn and think freely (intellect), to know how to manage reactions (instinct), to have friends and know how to develop and maintain friendships (social intelligence), to have insight and to know their own skills (personal intelligence), to understand how to be physically well and make best use of all their senses (physical intelligence) and how to appreciate and value life in all its forms (spiritually intelligent).
The 3Di model of multiple intelligences considers all of this as a means to live life well, with human development/motivation/rights at its core, which is why we think it’s so important that we all know our rights, and why we strongly believe that every school should display and work with pupils on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In order for us to fully engage with the UN Human Rights we have to
- Know our rights, and be mindful of those rights in all that we do (intellect and understanding)
- React and manage our reactions with reference to those rights (instinctual intelligence) – particularly when we see them being ignored
- Be empathetic (social intelligence). It’s not enough to know about Human Rights and then ignore them when we see them being abused.
- Internalise and refine our individual appreciation of human rights (personal intelligence) – a necessity for personal development.
- Expect basic needs such as food, sleep, health provision and water for all (physical intelligence)
- Share and live virtuously (spiritual intelligence) – consider how many of the UN’s articles are based on fundamental shared values.
This is a day to be positive. The very fact that we have a globally recognised set of aims and values in the UN Declaration of Human Rights should be celebrated – but celebration requires action too. These articles can only be enacted worldwide if we promote harmony and understanding and if we behave intelligently, using all of our intelligences.
We have a long way to go, and we need to make every day a day for human rights rather than a single day in December when we think about how we should be living life well.