On Thursday evening, I attended a little conversation/meetup where people discussed "Balance." In that context, we talked about how to keep our lives balanced/keep balance in our lives despite the many different pressures we face from self, relationships, work, and family. Many people echoed the sorts of things I've been learning from Nonviolent Communication, my readings about trauma, as well as my work with counsellors and a psychologist. It felt good to hear how other people deal with balance in their own lives, especially since I feel as if I've done a terrible job at keeping balance in my own life.
As I listened, I thought a little about choice and agency, and I suggested that I feel balanced when I feel I have the agency to say "yes" or "no" to a given situation. It's hard to feel balanced when somebody or something forces my hand, so agency, as a measure of balance, made sense to me. The conversation bounced around on the "agency" theme for a bit and people fleshed it out far better than I ever could.
At some point, one group member mentioned Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs. I perked up because I'm quite familiar with the model from University and because I've used it in a few different contexts over the years. When we tried homeschooling our eldest daughter in kindergarten, for example, we had her make her own hierarchy of what her values were, based on the pyramid. I, for one, have no interest in ever using models the way they're supposed to be used, so applying the Hierarchy to kindergarten or to overall life "balance" is perfectly acceptable to me, as long as it sort-of works.
And I got a little bit of a brainstorm, something obvious I'd never considered before: Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs is shaped like a pyramid for a reason: The larger section at the bottom holds the rest of it up. The upper portions don't need to be so big, but they need a solid foundation for support. If something gets taken out of the lower sections, the upper sections will suffer; if something gets taken out of the upper sections, parts of the lower section aren't doing as much work as they could. And a poorly designed pyramid can lead to ugly results, like what happened to the Bent Pyramid at Dashur.
I remember a professor suggesting to me that Maslow did not think everybody could get to the top of the pyramid, to the level of self-actualization. I, however, think we can all get there in our own ways and that it's hard to have a healthy, balanced life if we don't have access to at least part of the tip of the pyramid. A person who can't self-actualize, in my opinion, will feel incomplete.
So if I treat the Maslow Pyramid as a picture of the complete self, as a "whole" person, we can squeeze lots of things into our personal needs pyramids. Some relationships might take part in all the levels, and some might just fit into one of the levels. What matters is that we don't either undermine our support by taking a bite out of a lower level, or trying to squeeze so much into an upper level that the lower levels can't support it. Balance, baby.
But the idea of taking bites out of the pyramid also got me thinking about something else: Jenga. Jenga is a balancing game as well. Let's say we're each a Jenga tower. As stresses hit our lives, we can easily "take a block from the bottom and put it on top." This is normative: it's rare to not have a few stresses here and there; it's boring to have a complete, hole-less Jenga tower. However, the higher our Jenga tower is, the more holes it has, the less balanced it is, the more likely it is to topple over. A tall, hole-y Jenga tower might stand tall, but it's more likely to topple, either when the wrong block gets removed, or when an outside force shakes it.
In my Jenga metaphor, we aim to be as balanced as possible, so I have to stray from traditional Jenga rules a little: when a stress passes by, you can take blocks from the top and put them back into the bottom. For example. within the next week I might b able to put some of the "Master's Project" blocks from the top of my tower back to the bottom. I will likely feel more balanced when that Master's project isn't on my plate anymore.
It's unlikely that you'll ever have a stress-free life, so you'll always have a few holes in the tower and a few blocks on top. I like this metaphor because it doesn't necessarily prioritize as much as the Maslow one does.
Neither are perfect metaphors, but I look forward to playing with them a little.
Here are the two ugly diagrams I made for my notes while I was listening:
Obviously, those diagrams suck and don't really say anything. But when I get back over to the Mainland, maybe I'll make a video with Jenga blocks.
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