Griffin and Tyrrell

Human Givens

IT IS a given that all living things, from sunflowers to sea-lions, from ants to anteaters, come into the world with special knowledge accumulated over eons by its species and passed down the generations. That knowledge has to unfold in order that the plant or animal can grow, survive and fulfill its potential. Human beings experience this innate knowledge as physical and emotional needs: hence the term human givens.

When a person’s innate human needs are met in the environment he or she will flourish. This truth derives from the universal law of all life forms, that, to survive, each organism must continually maintain and rebuild itself by taking in sufficient appropriate nourishment (physical and, in the case of higher mammals, emotional) from the environment.  All life depends on this genetically driven process.  This is a fundamental truth everyone can agree on. When we are not getting our needs met in a healthy way we worry, become anxious, depressed or angry. We can also develop addictions.

The human givens are inescapable. They are Nature’s guidance system and tuning in to them helps us think clearly about how we live, raise children, work and are governed. It follows that parents, teachers and psychotherapists especially need to understand them. But society would benefit if more managers, planners and leaders were also aware of these fundamental human needs before instigating policies.

As well as needs, Nature also provides us with many resources to help us get those needs met, such as the ability to learn, remember and use imagination to solve problems. These resources are also human givens and if they are damaged in some way, say through inappropriate conditioning or psychological trauma, they have to be repaired. Training, education or therapy can usually do this.

It is because we are driven by nature to get emotional needs met that, if people can’t do so in healthy ways, they try and do so in less healthy ones. For example, we are social animals and have a need to belong to groups in the wider community. But, if the only community in a young person’s neighbourhood is a gang of antisocial, binge drinking, criminally inclined youths, he or she will be strongly driven to join them to get that need met. Hence the quality of the social world around children is critical.

Organisations cannot escape the needs that are programmed in us by Nature either. Just as someone cannot be mentally ill if his or her emotional needs are being met in a balanced way, so an organisation is  healthy and will flourish to the extent that it contributes to ensuring the emotional needs of all those in it, those it serves (customers, clients, communities) and all others affected by its activities.

If you are interested in connecting up with people interested in these ideas why not join the Human Givens Institute (HGI)?