Close to 40 years ago, I attended a training class on developing one’s creative abilities. The trainer used all kinds of techniques for trying to get us to “think outside the box”. I can still remember him holding up a pair of scissors and pointing out that at one time someone came up with the idea of bringing two knives together on a pivot. Prior to the invention of scissors, humans had a need to cut things – cloth, paper and so on – along a fairly straight line without a tool to do it.

I can still remember the instructor saying, “these are the watchwords for the 20th century – find a human need and fill it!” He encouraged us to always be on the lookout for unmet needs so that we could apply our creative skill on a meaningful task.

Around the same time, I remember a mentor advising me that whenever I went into a new job I should survey what the unmet needs of the office was and then make myself indispensable by filling those needs. That’s been useful advice that has served me time and again.

I remember coming into one work setting before the days when everyone had computers and found an unused word processor sitting on a vacant desk. Management had bought it but no one knew how to run it. I grabbed the manual, quickly taught myself how it worked and then set up an automated process for sending out letters that saved a lot of staff time. Over and over again, my love of technology and seeing how it could meet an unmet need has served my career. Yet more importantly, I saw that my efforts served to develop the skills and efficiency of the office and better meet customer needs.

Early in my career, finding needs and filling them had a more egocentric motivation. My success led to kudos, bonuses and promotions. Over time, the intentions behind filling needs became more altruistic. As I focused upon the mission and vision of the organization I served, I became more and more aware of the needs of our customers and how by filling their needs I was serving a greater good. Over time, my circle of who I was concerned about expanded beyond simply “our customers” to eventually include other stakeholders – partners, citizens, eventually everyone.

Such a personal developmental sequence from being egocentric to ethnocentric to world centric is what philosopher Ken Wilber calls “stages of development” along the “moral development line”. Each of us develop morally by expanding the circle of people for whom we have care and concern. Many people are stuck only caring about themselves (egocentric) or the people who are like themselves (ethnocentric). When they go to “fill needs”, such individuals generally only consider what would benefit themselves or their group. These people say “to hell with everybody else, the world is about survival of the fittest.” They still see the world through eyes of lack and limitation.

However, we are all called to a higher level of development where the needs we identify that most need to be met are not limited to what is in our personal world. From this place, we look out at the entire planet and consider the needs of everyone everywhere.

An example of such a person operating at this higher level is sportswriter and author Mitch Albom. Recently the CBS program Sunday Morning did a feature on Mitch where he was interviewed by Jane Pauley. Yes, they focused upon his success in his career and his upcoming book, but at one point Jane shifted years and called Mitch a “saint” because she said to him, “you notice people who need help and you find ways to help them.” He modestly acknowledged this was true. The segment went on from there to describe how Albom helped a young woman get her own house, his assistance to a Detroit center that feeds the homeless and his work with an orphanage in Haiti. He definitely deserves the commendation! Mitch obviously tries to identify human needs and fill them.

Human needs come in all shapes and sizes. I frequently mention Maslow’s hierarchy of needs because it simply makes so much sense. All humans have certain basic physiological needs – air, food and water – which must be met before they can be concerned with “higher needs”. Next according to Maslow’s theory, come our needs for safety and security (a home, an income, health care, a safe environment) followed by desires for love and belongingness (friends, family, a sense of connectedness) and then self-esteem needs (feeling a sense of self-worth in our lives). According to Maslow, all of these lower needs are driven by some sense of lack – we feel we are missing something and are trying to “fill the hole”.

It is only when these “deficiency needs” are met that we can focus upon the higher needs of self-actualization (being and becoming all that is possible in our life) and self transcendence (sensing and connecting with something greater than our individual self). Per Maslow, these needs were driven by a sense of completeness in our lives and a desire to give back based upon our perception of our life’s overflowing fullness. Maslow called these “being needs”.

One reason that the Sunday morning story on Mitch Albom touched me was that I could tell that he was motivated from his fullness, from his being needs, to give to others. And, from that state of fullness he was able to perceive others around him who were stuck in life’s lower needs where they were motivated by “lack”. Mitch was an example for us all to aspire to moving to that place within ourselves where we sense no lack and are motivated to give to others. Our goal should be to lift others up out of their world of lack and open them to the highest possibilities for their lives.

Where are there needs around you? Are you open to seeing them? It’s easy for us to be so busy “doing what we’re doing” that we don’t notice neediness around us. It’s time to lift our blinders and notice what’s going on and take action. Where can you be “a saint” in your sphere of influence to lift people out of lack so they can become the highest vision of who they can be?

So here are your watchwords for the 21st century – find a human need and fill it!

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!

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