Balance, Or – Why Life is Like a Three Legged Stool
by Gunther Hrafngrim
Balance is a word heard a lot today. Balanced use of the environment, balancing career and
home, balancing the budget (ok – so I made that one up
I was struck by a thought the other day,
that the problem with most folks is that they speak of balance between two things, almost always
a dichotomy. Things are mutually exclusive, and decisions must be made between them. I had
always just accepted this, but it suddenly occurred to me to question it.
Perhaps the balance in a person’s life shouldn’t be a tug-of-war between things, but something
more akin to a building from basics to more lofty aspirations. As I thought about this, I realized
that a threefold analysis of balance might be a lot more fruitful than a duality. Almost
immediately, I remembered Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and considered how I would
reinterpret this in light of an Asatru perspective.
As you will no doubt remember, (And believe me, I KNOW I’m taking a lot of liberties with the
original theory when I condense it this way!), Maslow proposed that human needs could be
arranged in a pyramid, with basic survival needs forming the base, and progressively “loftier”
needs as one goes up. This theory basically stated that humans can only stretch to the higher states
when the other needs are met. For example, if you’re worried about whether you’ll have a job,
you don’t care about what color your desk is. If one assumes a fairly cowardly opinion of
humanity, this makes a lot of sense. It may even be the basic animal nature of humanity to be
organized this way.
What’s wrong in this theory, is that it assumes what I perceive to be a fairly base selfish view of
humanity – Individuals must be secure to reach out, Greatness is built on secure foundations.
Asatru assumes an intrinsic greatness in people. What I mean by this is that people are at their
best when the “chips are down.” At the heart of every person on Earth is a hero, one who will
strive for greatness from the very pit of despair. Beowulf strikes that final blow, and Wiglaf
shields him at an assumed cost of his life. The 47 Ronin live in utter humiliation to find the
chance to avenge their master, and then compose poetry at their death. William Wallace cries
“Freedom” as he dies. The frightened housewife hides her Jewish neighbors from the
government. These are not the acts of someone paralyzed because “their needs aren’t being met.”
The voice of survival in these cases is directly at odds with their actions.
Now, it is true that everyone is not a hero, and in fact many people are the exact opposite. If we
examine balance in a three fold manner, perhaps we can see the reason for this, and maybe even
see a way to address this. If the needs of humankind are three-fold, what are the three needs?
First would be survival, of course. Next would perhaps be enjoyment or fun, what else could
encompass such diverse things as love of music and sex for pleasure. But, what would be the
third? It struck me that the common thread in stories of heroism is a concern for something greater
than themselves. Perhaps the third leg of this triangle could be greatness, honor, or reputation.
To further explore this, let’s break these proposed needs out into three lists:
Food, shelter, procreation, affection, and secondary needs like employment, transportation, and
clothing. (These are basic needs of survival).
Arts, philosophy, abstract science, sex for pleasure, fine dining, home improvement, surfing the
web, wardrobe, – you get the idea. (This encompasses much of human activity).
Honor or Greatness of Spirit
Sacrifice, heroism, idealism,morality – that continual striving to overcome base animal nature to
pursue more lofty goals. I would suggest that this is the point the Havamal addresses when the
High One reminds us that a good reputation never dies. This striving is more than a need to be
remembered, but rather to never give up.
I would suggest that true balance is needed between all THREE of these things. An imbalance in
any one would result in a monstrosity. A Survival fixation produces cowardice, a Pleasure
fixation produces selfishness and greed (As well as a host of other ills), and a fixation on
Greatness produces intolerance and megalomania. Most evil people could be described as
imbalanced using this model, which of course suggests the remedy.
It is important that all three aspects of life be represented, for without Greatness there can be no
improvement in humanity. This is at the heart of the Odinic Path – to strive for betterment in the
human condition and of the species. It is important to also remember that without a care for
survival, the species is doomed; and without pleasure, there can be no wonder, no creation, and