Maslow Revisited, Part III: Aligned Basic Values

Abraham Maslow never used a pyramid to illustrate the interplay of human needs. Shalom Schwartz’s Basic Human Values shed more light on the interplay of human motivators. Using the combined model, we can understand what drives people and how to better align our team.

As we are going through the pandemic outbreak, when the world as we know it is turned upside down, it must be hard to concentrate on Maslow now. But if you are reading this, you are a living proof that, having once achieved a “higher” level of values, homo sapiens is unable to discard them even when the external circumstances force us to slide “back to basics.”


You have just passed the humanity test.

Surprising new developments

Staying human does not come easy for many people around us. We are surprised by their lowly behavior: hoarding, snitching, unfounded accusations, etc. Surprising – but not unexpected if you apply Maslow’s model aided by the Basic Values theory developed by Shalom Schwartz.

Based on this approach, here are some societal changes we should expect during the pandemic lockdown:

  1. Growing unrest and street crime
  2. More reported cases of domestic violence
  3. Increasing suicide rate
  4. Less attention, if any, to all things “green”, “lean” and the like
  5. Birth rate drop in 2021-22
  6. Likely spike in divorce filings (when the courts open).

The Circumplex of Human Values model (described in Part 1 and Part 2) explains these unexpected – but foreseeable – “changes,” as well as many trends and paradoxes in human behavior and social psychology. Under the stress of today’s challenges, people reveal their true values, and those values make them behave in their natural way.

Luckily, being able to predict domestic violence or divorce filings increase is not a very useful skill for most of us; but if we understand the model, we can apply it in a team environment to achieve better alignment and efficiency.

Here’s a short explanation.

Values Do Not Change

Regardless of age, sex, race, religious or political affiliation, we are driven by our internal values. During prosperous times, the true values are camouflaged with behaviors – but they immediately reveal themselves in a crisis situation. People just “get naked” in times like now.

Those who used to “demonstrate the right behavior” are not doing it today because behaviors are learned, copied, or faked by most people. It is the relationships among values that guide the respective attitudes and behaviors. Values cannot be faked and they hardly ever change. In the moments of external stress, when all masks and smiles are off, the true values come to the forefront and drive genuine behaviors that often do not look “right” any longer.

This revelation is less prominent when the “crisis” is just a late product delivery or a missed promotion. But it becomes strikingly obvious and outright scary when one’s life is in danger. That is what we are witnessing today.

The Mechanism of Change

The mechanism of behavioral change is not complicated. During a safe and happy period, average folks tend to upgrade the importance of values that they can readily attain and downgrade the importance of values that they cannot pursue. If lower-level values (or D-needs, per Maslow) of material well-being and security are affected, the reverse occurs: their importance increases if they are blocked or just perceived unattainable.


For genuine human beings, there’s no choice: They pursue B-values that are important to them and fight for them when those values are blocked or compromised. External physical challenges may eventually bring their focus down to D-needs – but temporarily only. As mentioned before, these individuals will not agree to forfeit the higher values they have already experienced.

Let me emphasize this again. When everything is fine, correct behaviors are easily faked in an attempt to demonstrate fake values as genuine. For example, most Tesla owners bought the car as a status symbol (Power, Achievement) and not as a natural outcome of their care for nature (Universalism). Likewise, we all hear numerous stories about “religious leaders” and even “saints” who may have abused their positions and demonstrated that their actions are indeed driven not by the welfare of the followers (Benevolence) but rather by personal status, dominance and gratification of oneself (Power and Hedonism values), i.e. their motivators happen to be on the opposite side of the values spectrum!

As Maslow noted, when we are forced to slide down to basic needs temporarily, we are not stepping into the same river again: humans who have experienced higher values will retain them as needs – and try to get back to them as soon as circumstances allow. On the other hand, when the current crisis is over, and we get out of not-the-same river, we are not going to “step onto the same stone on the same shore again”: although we will strive to return to the previously achieved higher values, our values set will change and may get out of alignment with our environment (relationships, organizations, partners).

The Circumplex

This change in the values set is better visualized with the Circumplex model. With the Pyramid model, we are likely to visualize our descent (line 1) and the following ascent to the new normal (line 2) as a linear migration down and then up the hierarchy. With the Circumplex model, changes are not linear, and the person will hardly return to the same point. The individual “location” on the chart is determined by the resultant “total” value coordinates (represented by a star). As the ratio of values within the total change, the star location moves.

In a very general case, the values focus will move counter-clockwise on the way “down,” and clockwise on the way “up” – but returning to a different point on the chart.

With the Circumplex model in mind, we may predict that after the COVID-19 war, we will be in a different society, different organization, different team. Some individuals will find their new normal in a different family.

As homo sapiens, we started our lineage being very close to nature (Universalism), reliant on our community (Benevolence) for food and safety, and thus willfully Conforming to customs and Traditional religions. Having achieved a strong position and thus greater Security, our ancestors became more focused on Power and Achievement. Today, the most advanced individuals among us are driven by the need to find their unique Self-Direction: scientists, inventors, and world leaders steady on their path to self-actualization and Self-Transcendence.

Without a doubt, we will return to our true values, although the relationship within the individual values sets will change. Almost certainly, we will all shift towards social focus, allocating more weight to the values related to interdependence and universal welfare (the right side of the Circumplex). However, more advanced individuals will move clockwise towards Self-Transcendence, while others will have their focus shifted (counter-clockwise) toward personal security, conformity, and increased religious commitment. More about it – in Part IV (coming soon).

Depending on the direction in which your values focus change under external circumstances, you may actually move up.  Metaphorically, two individuals that were very close before the life-changing events may end up in the same room – but on different floors. Perhaps that’s what the Tower of Babel symbolized with its winding stairs ascending into heaven.

The dynamics of the change are more complicated for teams, partnerships or families, and with more dramatic results in most cases.

As the “trajectory” of change is different for each individual, there’s a high probability that interpersonal differences will increase when the difference in values becomes more prominent. These differences will lead to conflicts that cause societal changes suggested above.

Although, theoretically, some individuals may become closer as a result, in most cases the “Euclidean” distance between our resultant values will grow. This is measured by the distance between our individual locations on the Q7 Culture Compass values map.

The Gap

In peaceful time, when the “gap” between the individual is within permissible tolerance, the individuals may try to close this gap – for whatever personal reason – or at least camouflage it with adapted behaviors.

Not so during the “wartime.” What could be considered “normal friction” or “healthy disagreement” when everything else was fine – now has a good chance to become insupportable. And that is not the end of it: we may continue moving apart “on the way back,” when we move back to normal. We are not going to step into the same river twice, nor step out of it onto the same spot on the beach.

Many couples admit that under lockdown, they have already learned a lot about their better halves, often more than they would want to know. That’s why lawyers will have a good many field days – soon.

But there’s a silver lining to all this – at least for those who remain human throughout this ordeal and do not surrender to their most basic needs. If you have managed to maintain self-awareness and stay human, now is the time to assess your values as well as those of your teams, because they are more visible than ever during the crisis. While we are all naked, that is.

Read about the Q7 tool and how your team will benefit in Part IV (coming soon).

For now – share this article with your team.

More about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs is Not a Pyramid. So What?

Maslow Revisited. Part I: Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow Revisited, Part II: Circumplex of Values