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What are the 'human givens'?

We are all born with innate knowledge programmed into us from our genes. Throughout life we experience this knowledge as feelings of physical and emotional need. These feelings evolved over millions of years and, whatever our cultural background, are our common biological inheritance. They are the driving force that motivates us to become fully human and succeed in whatever An introduction to the human givens approachenvironment we find ourselves in.

Our given physical needs

As animals we are born into a material world where we need air to breathe, water, nutritious food and sufficient sleep. These are the paramount physical needs. Without them, we quickly die. In addition we also need the freedom to stimulate our senses and exercise our muscles. We instinctively seek sufficient and secure shelter where we can grow and reproduce ourselves and bring up our young. These physical needs are intimately bound up with our emotional needs — the main focus of human givens psychology.

Our given emotional needs

Emotions create distinctive psychobiological states in us and drive us to take action. The emotional needs nature has programmed us with are there to connect us to the external world, particularly to other people, and survive in it. They seek their fulfillment through the way we interact with the environment. Consequently, when these needs are not met in the world, nature ensures we suffer considerable distress — anxiety, anger, depression etc. — and our expression of distress, in whatever form it takes, impacts on those around us.

People whose emotional needs are met in a balanced way do not suffer mental health problems. When psychotherapists and teachers pay attention to this they are at their most effective. In short, it is by meeting our physical and emotional needs that we survive and develop as individuals and a species.

Our given 'resources'

Along with these physical and emotional needs nature gave us 'guidance systems' to give us the tools to help us meet our needs. We call these 'resources'.

It is because our fundamental needs and resources are both incorporated into our very biology at conception that we call them human 'givens' — they are the givens of human nature, nature's genetic endowment to humanity. When their impact on our emotional health and wellbeing is ignored, endeavours inevitably fail.

Over enormous stretches of time, our needs have undergone continuous refinement as they have driven our evolution on. They are best thought of as inbuilt patterns — biological templates — that continually interact with one another and (in undamaged people) seek their natural fulfilment in the world in ways that allow us to survive, live together as many-faceted individuals in a great variety of different social groupings, flourish and develop.

It is the way these needs are met, and the way we use the resources that nature has given us, that determine the physical, mental and moral health of an individual.

As such, the human givens are the benchmark position to which we must all refer — in education, mental and physical health and the way we organise and run our lives. When we feel emotionally fulfilled and are operating effectively within society, we are more likely to be mentally healthy and stable. But when too many innate physical and emotional needs are not being met in the environment, or when our resources are used incorrectly, unwittingly or otherwise, we suffer considerable distress. And so can those around us.

 

 

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