Our extraordinary potential
Humanism may be summarized as “any system or mode of thought which emphasizes human interests, values, and dignity.”
To get more specific with reference to personal growth, it is a central philosophy in the Human Potential Movement, which “formed around the concept of cultivating extraordinary potential that its advocates believed to lie largely untapped in most people. The movement took as its premise the belief that through the development of ‘human potential’, humans can experience an exceptional quality of life filled with happiness, creativity, and fulfillment.” [Wikipedia]
Humanistic psychology developed as a “force” or major direction in psychology, along with psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and transpersonal psychology.
Our drive for actualization
American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908–1970) is considered one of the intellectual founders of humanistic psychology, and is noted for his idea of a “hierarchy of human needs.” [link to diagram]
In his book Toward a Psychology of Being, Maslow declared, “If we wish to help humans to become more fully human, we must realize not only that they try to realize themselves, but that they are also reluctant or afraid or unable to do so. Only by fully appreciating this dialectic between sickness and health can we help to tip the balance in favor of health.”
He also noted, “Capacities clamor to be used, and cease their clamor only when they are well used. . . Not only is it fun to use our capacities, but it is necessary for growth. The unused skill or capacity or organ can become a disease center or else atrophy or disappear, thus diminishing the person.”
In his article Self-Actualizing and Beyond, he explained that “self actualizing means experiencing fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption. It means experiencing without the self-consciousness of the adolescent. At this moment of experiencing, the person is wholly and fully human.
“To make the growth choice instead of the fear choice a dozen times a day is to move a dozen times a day toward self-actualization.”