Saturday, April 14, 2012

Five Basic Human Desires

I was reading a magazine article recently and they paraphrased a book called Beyond Reason by Daniel Shapiro and Roger Fisher of the Harvard Negotiation Project.  They contend that all humans have 5 basic desires:  appreciation – feeling valued; affiliation – feeling connected; autonomy – feeling free to make decisions; status – feeling respected; fulfilling role – feeling fulfilled.

I don’t know if they considered cross-cultural issues, but these seem universal to me.  Not that all (or any) cultures fulfill those needs for everyone involved.  In Samoa, affiliation seems to be primary.  People are connected first to God, then to their parents.  Some would argue vice versa.  Then there’s the affiliation with the entire family and that includes relatives from other countries they may not have met. Next comes ties to the village.  Affiliation is very, very important in Samoa.

Autonomy is low on the value scale here.  In fact, it seems to be discouraged.  I know a 40+ year old woman who had been living overseas for years and was planning to be married there.  But her parents called her home to take care of them.  They were not infirm but wanted someone to cook and do other chores and to be there as their needs increased.  She did it.  She wasn’t happy about it but I wouldn’t say she was resentful.  It wasn’t her decision and it made her sad but lack of autonomy increased her affiliation with her family.

Autonomy, creativity and choice are not encouraged among children.  They do what they are told and eat what is put in front of them.  That creates rule-following, obedient children.  I was talking to some friends the other day about corporal punishment.  I asked at what age a parent stops hitting a child for “being cheeky” or other indiscretions.   They looked at each other and laughed.  “When they die.” was the response of one.  They went on to explain that a child must be obedient to their parents and the parents must continue to teach the child throughout their life, so even after marriage and child birth, if an adult child “misbehaves”, the parent will correct them, often physically.

Status is important here and is generally earned.  Either through service, which is what it takes to become a matai, or by living long enough to get respect by virtue of being old.   Matais (chiefs) and faifeaus (ministers) have the most status here.  Women, especially women living in their husband’s village, seem to have no status unless they have earned it by achieving a reputable job (like a teacher or nurse) or as a matai.  Yes, there are female matais, although that is not the norm.

I’m not sure where Samoa ranks on fulfillment.  I’d say in America we place a very high value on it.  Finding work that is fulfilling is important to Americans.  Finding work that puts food on the table is important to Samoans.  I think Maslow nailed it on this one. 

I’m not sure if fulfillment is the right term for some of the things that Samoans seem to find great satisfaction in.  It might be.    Weeding at sunset with other women seems to be not only a necessary task, but a fulfilling activity.  Spending time with people you know and making the yard better.  But is it fulfilling or just enjoyable?  The language barrier precludes me from finding out in the village.   One of the challenges of PC is that as close as I feel to some people here, language keeps us from delving into discussions about stuff like this.  Plus, like some of my friends at home, they’d likely wonder why I’d even be interested in talking about it.

I think Americans place a much higher value on appreciation than Samoans.  We want to feel that what we do is appreciated.  Many of us also want to be appreciated for who we are – a hard worker, or a good parent, or whatever role is most important to us.

I’ve been told that appreciation is a cornerstone of fa’asamoa.  I think they view appreciation in a different way.  They appreciate what they are given by God.  They appreciate the food and beautiful islands they have.  They say “thank you” a lot in some circumstances but not others.   For example, I was informed early on that you don’t just say “thank you” when getting on and off a bus, you say “thank you very much.”   Everyone with manners does it.  You say thank you to the cashier as well.

To the person who has slaved over an open fire cooking your food for hours and who serves it to you and then cleans it up?  You thank the hosts for the food and the hospitality, but not necessarily the cooker/server.  I do, but it seems to make people uncomfortable.  That’s their job, so why am I thanking them?

I recently conducted customer service training for the staff at a beautiful resort in Upolu.  The senior management team (2 palagis and 1 Samoan) was effusive in their thanks for my work.  I appreciated that. 

I agree with the Five Basic Human Needs.   I have three more.  I told a client once that I needed three things in a job:  to make a contribution, to learn something and to have fun.  That’s actually what I’m looking for in life in general. 


  1. Awesome insights into Samoans vs Western cultures! Keep up the great work!

  2. Live, learn, love!