Human Givens

I thought I’d share something I stumbled across a few years ago – the Human Givens Institute’s Emotional Needs Audit

Human Givens is a relatively new body of theory, which proposes that our emotions serve as signals, letting us know when our underlying psychological needs are not being met.  The needs audit linked above reflects a list of 9 psychological/emotional needs, which Human Givens theorists believe are genetically programmed into all humans, irrespective of cultural background.

To my mind, it does beg the question as to whether there are any ‘universal’ characteristics common to all humans.   There is considerable diversity in the world. I’m thinking of the people of North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal, probably the most mysterious and uncontacted group of people on the face of the planet.  The Sentinelese have had zero communication with the rest of the world; attempts to interact with them have been unsuccessful, even resulting in death.  If it were possible to communicate with the Sentinelese, would they agree with the list of Human Givens…? 

Point being, I do have to wonder if the list of needs is a bit of a Westernised list. It seems to have a lot in common with the philosophy of liberalism. Maybe these needs are rooted in values which aren’t as universal as we might think.  It may be worth pointing out here that even the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” isn’t universal – and I’m not referring to a possibility of other life forms in the universe, I mean on our planet not all territories have adopted it.

So I wonder whether anything about humans can be taken as a given.  Many believe we are fundamentally social creatures… except, perhaps, for hermits.  I like to think compassion is a human trait… but then I think of psychopaths.  I’m reminded of the numerous accounts of ‘wolf-children’ from around the world, and the testimonies of their unhuman-like behaviours. It seems to me that with any universal theory about humans, sooner or later we’ll stumble across an exception. Maybe the existentialists have it right – the only ‘given’ about humans is that we exist.

I’m conscious here it might sound like I’m ripping the Human Givens theory apart, or at least tearing a sizeable hole in it.  That’s not my intention: actually I like the theory, I appreciate the simplicity and neatness of it, and I believe the needs audit can be a useful tool.  After all, things don’t have to be perfect or bullet-proof to be useful. Maybe I’m just saying that if some things on the list don’t feel relevant or right, that’s OK.

So yes, take a look. Sometimes we feel a bit ‘out-of-sorts’ without knowing why, and a list of suggestions can help us narrow down, or set us thinking about something we wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. And if it helps you identify a cause, then hopefully you can start to do something about it.

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