Self-actualisation is the only motive that drives an organism. Psychologist Kurt Goldstein said that. Self-actualisation, in simple words, means being (or becoming) what one can be.
What appear to be different drives such as hunger, sex, power, achievement and curiosity are merely manifestations of the ultimate purpose which is self-actualisation. When a person is hungry he actualises himself by eating. Even a rapist is actualising himself, but in the most pathological way possible. Pathology is too complex an issue to be discussed here. So let’s get back to our topic.
For the psychologically healthy people, self-actualisation is the organic principle by which the individual becomes more fully developed and more complete. Every individual has various needs. The fulfilment of each need takes the individual a step forward in the self-actualising process.
Some people read and acquire more and more knowledge, thus fulfilling the need for knowledge which for them is a way of self-actualisation. Some people ascend the ladder of hierarchy and conquer positions of more and more power, thus finding their self-actualisation. There are infinite ways of reaching self-actualisation.
I read a good number of psychologists who discuss self-actualisation in order to find whether flattery could be a way of self-actualisation. Not one psychologist discusses the topic. Why?
Flattery is neither a way of self-actualisation nor an instance of psychological pathology. It is a survival strategy of the weak and incapable. When survival itself is a challenge, what other need can be important? And when a person does not have any arsenal left in his armoury to fight for his survival, what can he do but flatter those who matter and get on in life?
Goldstein said that a normal, healthy person is one “in (whom) the tendency towards self-actualization is acting from within, and overcomes the disturbance arising from the clash with the world, not out of anxiety but out of the joy of conquest.” [Emphasis added]
From within. That is what I meant by the arsenal in one’s armoury. A sportsman’s skills lie within him. So do a writer’s or a leader’s or any normal, healthy person’s. When one does not possess the skills required to face the challenges lying in his path or when he has not discovered those skills within him, strategies become necessary. Flattery is one such strategy. A fairly harmless strategy.
Why harmless? In fact, we can find a lot of people achieving much using that strategy. There are many people who get on very successfully especially in their occupations by cleverly employing flattery.
Eminent self-actualisation psychologists like Abraham Maslow listed umpteen things ranging from mistrust to despair, cynicism to gracelessness, jungle world-view to bewilderment as pathologies. Flattery does not find a place in that very long list.
Hence, I must sadly conclude that I am the one in need of healing since I exhibit bouts of cynicism, gracelessness, and what not. Like the three men in Jerome K Jerome’s boat, I find myself a patient in need of a physicist. Or, at the very least, a voyage on the river of rejuvenation.
Right now, until my situation is conducive to such an adventure, let me console myself admiring the flatterers and their ingenious strategies.
A related post which I wrote over a year ago: Your face shines like the moon