As we have seen, many factors play a part in a learner’s ability to retain new information. Does the new information make sense, and is it meaningful? Is it given in short “learning packets” that can be processed by the short term memory? Have environmental barriers been removed? Has the learner’s affective filter been freed from as many distractions as possible? The brain is an amazing tool God has given us, and understanding the factors both without and within that have an effect on our brain’s capacity to function is extremely beneficial, especially as we address the incredible task of Bible translation.
In this article we will discuss another aspect or angle of psychology that has an impact on learning, retention and output. Maslow, an American psychologist of the early 20th century, developed a hierarchy of needs that he considers common to all humans. The hierarchy is designed to demonstrate that lower level needs must be met before an awareness and desire toward meeting higher level needs can be experienced.
The most basic level of need is physiological —food, water, and rest. After that is safety—shelter—followed by love and belonging, esteem—the need to contribute to one’s community—and finally self-actualization—the achieving of one’s full potential as a human being. Let’s consider some implications of this hierarchy of needs at a MAST workshop, in light of our understanding of educational theories thus far.
The lowest level of need will consume the individual’s mental and emotional energies, effectively preventing them from investing purposefully in higher level needs. This means if a person is fearful that he wont’ have enough to eat, that is the level of need where his energies, concentration and efforts will be centered. Once food and water are secure, then he will begin to concern himself with shelter, love and belonging, etc. This is easily demonstrated in the human responses we see in natural disasters. Imagine a student who is working on his doctoral thesis loses his house to an earthquake, and suddenly has no place to live. Furthermore, food and clean water are at a premium because of the widespread nature of the catastrophe. This young man will no longer be thinking about getting his thesis done so he can receive his doctorate. Instead, that effort will be put on hold as he concentrates on finding sufficient food and water to survive, as well as a place of shelter.
In a MAST workshop our material is actually at the esteem level. In other words, we are inviting people to contribute to their community through an expansion of their own education and the use that on a specific project. If individuals come and their lower level needs are not met, we cannot expect them to have mental and emotional capacity to think at the esteem level. Thus, it is significant that we offer sufficient food, water, and safe shelter during a workshop.
Another aspect of the hierarchy is that a person will naturally move to an awareness of the next need once the lower level need is met. A current reality TV show called Alone, demonstrates this. Contestants are dropped off individually at personal sites in the wilderness where each must survive on his own. The contestant who survives the longest wins a half-million dollar prize. The contestants have to video themselves, and the show is made up of a compilation of these videos until only one person is left. What is fascinating to watch is how the contestants with little or no food will talk constantly about their need for food, their efforts to find food, their successes, their failures, their hopes for the next effort, while mentioning relatively little about their family back home. Once they master their food supply, however, and have a descent shelter against the elements, their monologues expand to include mediation on how lonely it is in the wilderness, how much they would love for their family to see their campsite, what they imagine their family doing, what they miss about being home, and why they think it so significant for them to stay in the wild and win. One season I was shocked as a woman who had plenty of food, a good shelter, and seemed very comfortable in wilderness living, chose to go home, because she suddenly couldn’t stand being away from her children any longer. Having taken care of lower level needs for survival her need to be part of a loving community consumed her, and she was no longer able to find meaning in anything that did not fulfill that need.
In a MAST workshop, participants have often left their families behind. Their need for love and belonging, can become forefront, as time wears on and they miss that connection they are used to having in their home community. It is important for us to understand this, and when possible offer support for connection with that family back home—sim card and cell phone calls for example.
Sometimes translators leave our workshop and head into environments that are not safe because of persecution or revolution or both. Some go back to subsistence farming where food provision takes up all their energy. They go into situations where a lower level need becomes prominent. This can slow down or even stop the translation work as other needs take precedence. What can we do about this? Being aware of this is significant for several reasons.
1. First we can pray for God’s grace to mitigate these factors and for his generous provision in the translators’ lives.
2. Additionally, we can prepare our translators for this struggle, assuring them that we know basic needs may get in the way of making consistent progress on the translation. Then we can encourage them to plan for the intrusion of those needs, to develop a strategy for overcoming or persisting in the translation project in spite of those needs.
3. Sometimes we can offer assistance or resources to help meet those lower-level needs.
4. Finally, in some instances we may offer follow-up MAST events where they can get away from the needs of their environment and fully concentrate on the project for a period of time.
In closing it is important to remember that God is supreme over any hierarchy of basic human needs. Many stories of his grace and faithfulness have come out of situations that were not safe, nor were physiological needs being met, and yet a translation project was completed. Individuals have testified to their inability to even think about food because they were so consumed with the precious trust of translating God’s Word for their people. God gives what we need. And he is sovereign in his wisdom. Knowing this we can trust him to provide for the translators exactly what they need to continue to concentrate on the translation.