Posts tagged “love and belonging

The Stowaway

A 15 year old boy is loaded into an ambulance at the Maui airport.

A 15 year old boy is loaded into an ambulance at the Maui airport.

The remarkable story earlier this week of the young stowaway aboard a Hawaiian Airlines jet underscores the significance and power of the basic psychological needs. The wheel-well passenger, a fifteen year old boy from Somalia, climbed a security fence at the San Jose Airport, hoisted himself into a wheel-well of the closest parked jet, waited for seven hours as the plane readied for departure, tucked himself into the tiniest of spaces when the wheels lifted back into the fuselage, and then endured a five hour flight that included altitudes of over 36,000 feet and temperatures that approached 60 degrees below zero. After arriving in Maui, Hawaii,  an airport camera filmed legs dangling from the plane’s wheel well, which is almost 10 feet off of the pavement, and then witnessed the boy jump to the tarmac.


In the days following the young man’s miraculous flight across the Pacific there has been much written about the implications of his stunt on airport security and about the science of surviving in a sustained environment with so little oxygen and such bitterly cold temperatures. Fewer people, though, are talking about, what for me is, the more important question – that being – What would lead a teenage boy to seriously break the law (climbing over the perimeter fence of an international airport) and then risk his life flying in the wheel well of a passenger jet? Why did he do it?


Understanding choice theory and the concept of the basic needs, along with a few more details about our young traveler, will help us answer the important Why question. The young man immigrated from Somalia four years ago. He lived in the San Diego area for awhile, but more recently relocated to the San Jose area. He struggled in school, as he had not attended school at all before coming to the U.S., especially in Math and Science, and he apparently did not get along with his father and stepmother that well, as an argument between him and them was one of the reasons he climbed over that security fence at 1:00 am in the morning. He missed Somalia and his grandparents, who lived there. And he wanted to visit with his mother, who he had not seen since he was two years old.

 Correct Basic Needs

As you listen to the details of this harrowing misadventure, a picture of the basic needs* of this teenage boy begin to emerge.

His need for love and belonging exerted a strong urge on him. He yearned to be with relatives that he felt loved him and cared about him, especially his mother, who he was separated from at a very young age. He did not feel, apparently, a strong sense of belonging here and he was motivated to find the human connection he needed.

His need for power was also unmet and also urged him to make a change. He didn’t know English very well and he wasn’t very successful in school. The feedback he may have gotten from his father and stepmother may have contributed to his lack of worth and accomplishment.

So powerful were these unmet psychological needs that it led him to risk his physical safety and overrule his basic need for survival.

That he did survive made for a compelling news story this week, and gives us a human drama from which to consider choice theory. We just need to remember that, while their stories may not make news headlines, we may be surrounded by young people struggling to meet their basic needs. Somehow we need the x-ray emotional vision that my friend, Tom Amato, talks about, that ability to see a situation through another person’s eyes.

Most people, upon hearing that a teenage boy climbed into the wheel well of a passenger jet and rode across the Pacific Ocean, would proclaim that the kid is nuts, a psych job. But when you consider the details through a choice theory lens you begin to see that his behavior was rational, thought out, risky, yes, and even ill planned, but his choice takes on meaning.

May we see the potential stowaway in our own children, and in our students, and focus on creating a need-satisfying environment that will prevent such stunts. May our children and students especially know that they are loved.


Those of you in the PUC area, we are having a Choice Theory Study Group this Sabbath afternoon, April 26, at 3:00 pm. Please note the later 3:00 pm start time.

* I have added the need for purpose as one of the basic psychological needs. Glasser didn’t feel that it was a basic need, but he didn’t get worked up that I felt it was.

Sandy Hook, Choice Theory, and Forgiveness


It is one of the most significant of all human qualities – that being the ability to forgive. I was reminded of this truth from a remarkable source – Newtown, Connecticut.

My cousin, a school administrator in New York City, knowing of my interest in choice theory, recently sent me an article* written by Dr. Anthony Salvatore, president of the Newtown Association of School Administrators. It turns out that Newtown schools, including Sandy Hook Elementary School, have been studying and implementing the ideas of William Glasser and choice theory since the early 1990s. As a result, Newtown has sought to be a needs-satisfying school system for students.

In the aftermath of the unspeakable tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary, Dr. Salvatore represents a voice of healing. Even his comments about the shooter reflect compassion.

“Although I will never know the answer,” he begins, “I keep thinking of what the conversation was that was going on in Adam Lanza’s head. How can we do better in school to help avoid this behavior again, even knowing we can’t control someone else’s behavior, but we can control the conditions around that person. And that takes a whole global community, not just a school or a classroom. Suicide is a final act and one that tells me he saw no other option for meeting his basic human needs. Did he feel like he was loved and belonged to his family or community? I don’t know. Did he feel like he had power in his life to feel competent about who he was? I don’t know. Did he feel like he had a choice in his life besides taking his own life? I don’t know. Did he feel like his life was filled with fun? I don’t know.”

Salvatore emphasized the need for schools to build positive relationships with students “so they can learn how to make the best choice for meeting their own needs and for helping others in society meet theirs as well. Building on the value of relationships and choice, he closed the article on a note I will not soon forget. His vision of forgiveness is more than inspiring!

“It’s time to focus on cooperation instead of competition in our society. It won’t bring back the lives of the 28 victims who died on Dec. 14, 2012, but it will honor the sacrifice they made that day. My fear is we will make the same mistake other communities have made and not recognize that Adam Lanza also was a victim that day. This is where Newtown can truly be a leader toward a new vision and new understanding. We need forgiveness on so many levels, but we first need healing. We already know from research that isolating bullies in school is harmful to the individual and to the school climate. Alienating someone from a community only exacerbates the feeling of powerlessness and not belonging. We must forgive mistakes and nurture our capacity to do good. We have control over that.”

May Dr. Salvatore’s words be an invitation and inspiration to each of us. May the Spirit work in us to prepare our hearts to respond to others, even those who do us harm, with similar compassion.


Forgiveness is such an essential part of good mental health. Within the scheme of choice theory, though, where does it fit in? Which of the basic needs, for instance, are being satisfied when we forgive someone?

My mind quickly goes to the need for love and belonging. Forgiveness has to do with our relationships. We seek forgiveness, whether from an earthly friend or our heavenly Father, to restore a relationship. And we offer forgiveness for the same reason – to restore or maintain a relationship.

What about the other needs, though. Does forgiveness satisfy the need for power in some way? How about the need for freedom? How about the need for joy and fun? And we shouldn’t leave out the physiological need for survival. Does forgiveness impact us on a physiological level?

I would like to hear from you regarding forgiveness and the basic needs. How does forgiveness help us meet our psychological or physical needs?


A few of us have started a Facebook page also called The Better Plan. We want it to be a collecting point for choice theory ideas and strategies. I invite you to join us. An article was posted today from a primary grade teacher who has just learned about choice theory on how her management is going to change this coming school year. Great stuff! Check it out.

* This article appeared in the Summer, 2013, edition of The Leader, the newsletter of the American Federation of School Administrators.

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