The human givens are our innate physical and emotional needs. These needs are not difficult to appreciate since we all share them. As human animals we are born into a material world where we need air to breathe, water, nutritious food and sufficient of the right quality of sleep. These are our paramount physical needs. Without them, we quickly die -- as many people do in parts of the world where clean water is scarce and food is in short supply. We also need the freedom to stimulate our senses and exercise our muscles. In addition, we instinctively seek sufficient and secure shelter where we can grow, reproduce ourselves and bring up our young in safety. Our physical needs are intimately bound up with our emotional needs.

Emotional needs include:

  • security – safe, private territory and a stable environment (home life) which allows us to develop fully
  • attention (to give and receive it)
  • a sense of autonomy and control
  • being emotionally connected to others
  • being valued by the wider community – status
  • friendship and intimacy
  • meaning and purpose – which comes from being stretched in what we do and how we think.

If these needs are not met as we grow up, we easily become needy, greedy, angry, anxious and depressed – forms of emotional arousal that, when we are in thrall to them, reduce our humanity and lead to all the miseries and cruelties in the world. When it is more widely recognised that one of the main responsibilities of every type of human group, from the family to the largest institution, is to help ensure that the physical and emotional needs of every child and adult with which it is engaged should be met, life will be more rewarding in every way.

Fortunately nature also programmed us with resources to help us meet our needs.

Innate human resources

These resources evolved alongside our needs and include:

  • The ability to develop complex long-term memory, which enables us to learn and add new knowledge to our innate knowledge.
  • The ability to build rapport, empathise and connect with others.
  • Imagination, which enables us to focus our attention away from our immediate emotional responses and solve problems more creatively and objectively.
  • A curious, conscious, rational mind that can check out emotions, question, analyse and plan (a left brain hemisphere activity).
  • The ability to store and develop knowledge – that is, to understand the world through metaphorical pattern matching (an unconscious, right brain hemisphere activity).
  • An observing self – the awareness of being aware: that part of us which can step back from our intellect, emotion and conditioning and be more objective (a frontal lobe activity).
  • The ability to dream, which discharges unexpressed emotional arousal from the day just gone to free the brain to deal with the next day’s emotionally arousing concerns and thus preserve the integrity of our genetic inheritance.

Even in this truncated list form, it is possible to see how many of these needs and resources could be used to provide a simple yardstick for gauging the effectiveness of an institution, political policy, company or service: in other words, how well it measures up to the criteria of meeting physical and emotional needs – the human givens.

Further Information

For more information also see: ‘ Human Givens: a new approach to emotional health and clear thinking’ (2003), by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell, HG Publishing.

For information about training from the human givens perspective visit: www.humangivenscollege.com

For information about the Human Givens Journal and other publications visit: www.humangivens.com


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