Vignette 10/52. Safety shorts and un-pyramiding.

“Life is an ongoing process of choosing between safety (out of fear and need for defense) and risk (for the sake of progress and growth). Make the growth choice a dozen times a day.” – Abraham Maslow


I went to a Catholic high school and wore a kilt. Underneath the kilt, I wore a pair of cycling shorts. My friend Lara introduced me to the exact name of these types of shorts when I was an adult – safety shorts.

Safety shorts gave me the freedom to move without fear of accidentally flashing an unsuspecting passerby at the bus stop, a teacher, or hormonal adolescent boys. I could skip steps up the crowded stairwell or jump over puddles with abandon.

A simple piece of clothing filled my need to feel free in my movements, ultimately giving me a sense of safety as an awkward adolescent girl. I was able to focus on other things like learning and building relationships.

Little did I know that this was a great example of Maslow’s theory of a hierarchy of needs which I eventually encountered in my organizational behaviour class in university. It has guided me in how I homeschool, how I parent, how I navigate marriage, how I take care of myself, and now, how I develop a program at a learning center.

I recently read Scott Barry Kaufman’s illuminating blog post on Maslow’s Pyramid:

Abraham Maslow’s iconic pyramid of needs is one of the most famous images in the history of management studies. At the base of the pyramid are physiological needs, and at the top is self-actualization, the full realization of one’s unique potential. Along the way are the needs for safety, belonging, love, and esteem.

But Kaufman goes on to write:

However, many people may not realize that during the last few years of his life Maslow believed self-transcendence, not self-actualization, was the pinnacle of human needs. What’s more, it’s difficult to find any evidence that he ever actually represented his theory as a pyramid. On the contrary, it’s clear from his writings that he did not view his hierarchy of needs like a video game– as though you reach one level and then unlock the next level, never again returning to the “lower” levels. He made it quite clear that we are always going back and forth in the hierarchy, and we can target multiple needs at the same time.

According to Kaufman, a ladder is a more appropriate visual representation because a person can be affected by multiple types of needs at once. The need for safety and belonging can exist simultaneously.

Children have had their lives disrupted, watched their parents worry, watched their whole world become uncertain, continue to try to navigate the world with masks while still learning to read facial expressions, and are expected to adapt to virtual learning immediately before they get “too far behind.”

This is like 14 year old me wearing a kilt without safety shorts on the first day of a high school that has over 3000 students.

In March, our learning space went online too.

But instead of trying to do “school,” we told stories, played games, and danced with the little ones. We had deep conversations and asked big questions with the bigger ones.

We changed the way we connected to the kids.

Turn videos on and say good morning and goodbye. Make eye contact. Tell me what you are grateful for. When was the last time you laughed? Let’s take five minutes and journal together. How are you feeling? Let’s draw together on the zoom white board. Let’s do an art exercise together. Let’s do show and tell. Let’s “visit” the other class and surprise them. Let’s take a tour of a virtual museum together and tell me what you think. No, you don’t have to write an essay. Please just show up and talk.

It will all be ok because we have each other.

Do you see the moon? That’s the same moon we all see even the moon that your grandparents on the other side of the world see.

This is my grander vision of safety shorts and an attempt at incorporating Maslow’s ladder into how we teach and learn with others in community. This is Casa Morpho. This is mostly where I have been.






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