This is my second post on vertical, or adult, development. See the first one here.
According to Tantric philosophy there is no good or bad; all experiences are considered important and every expression of life force, even if it is from an opponent whom we think is the scum of the earth, is seen as holy. To understand and know this, not only intellectually, or agree because it sounds good, but to truly feel it in your bones, is difficult, yet still available to most of us. That is, f we are willing to inquiry into our thinking- and learning processes, if we can learn how to take a witness perspective, if we are truly curious, and are willing to question all our assumptions. Besides meditating, and using inquiry techniques such as the one we use in the Diamond Approach, we can learn different models of vertical thinking, and as the next step, learn how to practice it, through, for example, inquiry, which I’ll come back to in a different post.
In this post, I take on Spiral Dynamics, which is one of the most used models when it comes to meaning-making, individually but also in businesses and culturally created by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan. They in turn built their body of work on Professor Clare Graves’ model, a developmental psychologist. Clare Graves’ work has been key for Ken Wilber’s Integral Model and for many others.
Spiral Dynamics is great to use as a framework, whether we want to understand what’s happening globally, if we want to expand our business to cover different regions in the world or to change business models. And it’s extremely useful for leadership and any level of personal growth. It’s not a perfect model; like all these models they are quite disembodied, mostly related to our intellect, and don’t take in the deeper aspects of psychological maturity and soul development, yet they still are very useful and important. Mostly because it teaches us how to hold more than one perspective at a time, and can help cultivate wisdom.
And that’s invaluable, because the main reason why we have such a mess politically on so many levels, whether domestic or global, is due to a lack of awareness that in an increasingly complex world, politics can never be reduced to just a single perspective. With people retreating more and more into their respective bubbles, spitting venom at one another, I keep wanting a grown-up to show up and take command and help the fighting children to learn how to communicate with one another. And that grown-up, btw, is you. A you who can hold two opposing thoughts at the same time and be genuinely curious about the underlying reasons why people are. behaving like they are, even if your gut reaction is to reject their thoughts, ideas and actions. This is where Spiral Dynamics come in.
Spiral Dynamics (and all other models of vertical development) asserts that people are at different vertical developmental levels also as grown-ups. The previous thought models postulated that we were essentially grown-up by 25, and that was it. Now we know, even scientifically, that that is very far from the truth. We create meaning, using Rob Kegan’s words, through different levels of meaning-making, and age often improves our capacity to handle more complexity. Yet to make it more nuanced, our capacity for meaning-making will also differ depending on a number of internal and external factors. Even being stressed, for example, has an impact on our vertical capacity, and most of us are at different levels in different parts of our lives. If you are very evolved as a leader, for example, you still might revert back to a much earlier stage when around your own parents for an extended family vacation or when your children refuse to stop screaming inside a store.
Spiral Dynamics Assumptions
Spiral Dynamics is based on a few different assumptions:
- The life conditions for a person, group, culture and country will impact where we are at in the spiral and it will look different.
- General capacities of the individual or group for being able to dealing with the world, which include neurological abilities.
- There are no bad levels. For example, being at a blue level, and needing safety and security is not bad. For a country, and for parts of our lives, it’s absolutely necessary. Yet, if we get stuck at blue, and as a group create meaning out of this level, it will create an oppressive society.
- We cannot jump over a level. We go through them sequentially, even though some might stay only for a short while at a certain level.
- Very few people operate at the Second Tier globally, and a very small percentage of the population is at Turquoise level. Yet, more people are evolving upwards in the spiral, which is very hopeful – and most off all – almost everyone can grow vertically with training and awareness.
Spiral Dynamics Levels
Below are listed the differnt levels of the Spiral:
A BEIGE (reactive) perspective on life. Dependent on outside support for its survival. Today only seen in babies and very young children, and those who are debilitated with degeneative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
A PURPLE (tribal). Subsumed in group, no separate identity of “I”. Family bonds and honoring the tribe. Naturalistic, Usually only found in more “primitive” and tribal cultures.
A RED (egocentric) a highly individualistc perspective on life, breaking away from the tribe, but can also be expressed as rugged authoritarionism. Expression of self is impulsive, based on what the self desires. Often the mentality of street gangs, and teenagers:). It is common in parts of the Middle East and parts of Africa, where the tribe rules the values meme and there is a lot of aggression overall. People at this level of the spiral don’t understand or trust democracy; instead it’s the family, and honoring the extended family that is key. Living in a society that creates meaning out of red is in most cases difficult for women and any minorities, since they usually are treated as commodities, but even men need to adhere to standards set by the tribe and the extended family.. Here there are no companies, except for street gangs and mafia mobs and movements like IS. Yet, having this said, we also need to access red within us, since red contains a LOT of power, and without it, we often don’t learn how to stand up for ourselves. So like the afore-mentioned example, we all need red, we just don’t want a company or a society built on that level of meaning-making.
A BLUE (absolutist) perspective on life is common in China, and increasingly in Russia, but also the governing principles in the kingdoms in the Middle East. This is the domain of military command and sometimes brutal order. The thinking is binary, and there is a “right way”. Essentially, you don’t want to disobey, or you will suffer the consequences. As China’s power grows in the world, and a rising Russia, we are going to see a strengthening of these values in the world (which is at a direct clash with the modern and in particular postmodern thinking in the West). Here the organizational world is hierarchical and this is where organized religion as well as a strong organized military force dominate. Some older industrial companies were also blue.
Blue is a community oriented level with strong “moving away from” motivation. There is a strong sense of right vs. wrong, good vs. bad and the need for order in society. In cultural terms, judicial systems develop at this level. Fundamentalist religious beliefs are seen here too. Core values include justice, security and morality. Also a desire to control impulsivity and “evil” deeds. Can be seen in movements such as “right to life” and “moral majority”. Blue, as given an example above, is also necessary in our personal lives. Without discipline, for example, we can’t build a business, handle a more demanding task, or study.
An ORANGE (achievement/individualist) perspective on life is a response to the blue perspective and it offers many ways and criteria (compared with blue). Orange is what we equate with modern thinking, and the focus is on success, opportunity goal-orientation and competition. This level of thinking is what governs most of the Western world but also partially China, India and Africa. This is the era of Scientific and Industrial Revolution, the age of reason, which is also what we equate with Liberal Capitalism. The downsides are the trappings of the modern mindset, with a consumer-based culture, and a mindless competition.
As above, we also need orange in our lives. Goals help us galvanize our energy and focus. The incredible force of individualism is also essential for us to in order to indviduate, to find ourselves. Yet, as above, there are many limitations with a society built on achievements and consumerism.
A GREEN (relativist/humanitarian) perspective is a response to the achievement-focused orientation of orange and the focus here is collaboration, consensus, harmony, love, and one is expected to sacrifice self to gain group belonging. Socialism, but also postmodernism are examples of this level. Core values are around fairness and equality with the desire to free the human spirit from exploitation. Has generated the women’s movement and the civil rights movement in the last century. Wishes to eliminate poverty, racism, chauvinism and other forms of divisiveness.
In order to grow as humang beings, green is essential. Without it, we will never truly recognize or care about “the other”. Green has been quintessential in order to make society more humane and it’s a pinnacle of human evolution on many levels. Yet, getting stuck here, which is where Sweden and parts of Europe are today, fosters naiviety and pollyanna-thinking, together with a moral righteousness and political correctness that eventually become harmful and can create a backlash that, for example, most likely enabled the election of Donald Trump in the US.
Compared with the first tier, where each level competes with the other, individuals who operate from the Second Tier can fully appreciate the value and necessity of all the previous levels. They comprehend that the health of the entire spiral is essential and there is much less judgment overall. At the Second Tier, systems thinking becomes the norm, and mental activity consists of joining, linking, and synthesizing in pluralistic systems. Individuals who have achieved the Second Tier, especially from Turquioise and up, find a greatly increased capacity for love and compassion instead of fear, which is present at all existing previous levels, at diminishing degrees. This is where trust creates a more solid base for our thoughts and actions. This is the “Self-Actualizing and Transpersonal” level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
An individually-oriented ‘systems’ viewpoint. Sees the world as being in danger of collapse because of misuse of resources. Sees life as diverse and paradoxical. Has the pursuit of knowledge as a major driver but without the need to demonstrate his/her own ego. Can often see the bigger picture and be willing to take a position that is contrary to popular opinion. However, may get frustrated if others are not able to see their point. Another downside of yellow is that at this level, we still are pretty disconnected from our bodies, and systems thinkers can be quite mental, and operate without heart, which also can make them dangerous, since they have a much stronger ability to influence.
Some of the characteristic beliefs and actions of the yellow are:
* Pursuit of learning for its own sake.
* Systems thinking.
* Viewing life as a kaleidoscope of natural hierarchies, systems, and forms
* Valuing the magnificence of existence over material possessions
* Prioritizing flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality
* Valuing knowledge and competency over rank, power, and status
* Integrating complex systems with ease
Sees a world in danger of geo-political collapse as a result of adopting short term strategies. Seeks spirituality and unity in living systems. Strives to eliminate war, poverty, disease, hunger and political oppression. Recognises the potential need to sacrifice self and others as may be required for the overall survival of life. Thinks and acts globally. Some of the characteristic beliefs and actions of the Turquoise vMEME include:
*Doesn’t judge and can handle not-knowing.
*Experiencing the world as a single, dynamic organism with its own collective mind.
*Acknowledging the Self as both distinct and a blended part of a larger, compassionate whole.
*Viewing everything connected to everything else as incredibly beautiful ecological alignments.
*Experiencing energy and information as permeating the Earth’s total environment
*Thinking that is holistic, intuitive and gnostic, i.e. following a deeper self-experienced truth.
*Synthesizing science and religion into a universal spirituality.
Green or Turquoise?
People at a green level sometimes believe themselves to be at the second tier, especially turquoise. An important distinctive feature between the two is the feeling of moralistic superiority that exists in green but is not present in turquoise. Green often rules by using guilt and shame as methods of feeling morally superior. A green perspective might be to say that Trump is the worst thing that could have happened to the US. A turquoise view would be to acknowledge that it could be the case, but also that it could be the opposite. Maybe Trump is a necessary catalyst for something new to evolve. We can also look at our own lives. Often what we most resisted, for example an accident, a disease or a divorce, has become the catalyst for a whole new life. Another way of putting it is related to the time-horizon. A green thinker looks at the current world and sees the potential dangers happening right now. A turquoise thinker thinks ahead, understanding that in the realm of 10, 50 or 100 years, things might look very different. It doesn’t preclude political activism, but it’s important to see where our activist energy is coming from.
This is the latest recognized values-meme and very, very few people are here yet, so there is little research done. At the coral level, we can deconstruct our ego-structure,s language, ideas, our identities and are able to question everything at a profound level. Coral is essentially the meme for spiritual masters. Yet, of course, more and more people are going to be able to achieve this level too. It will be highly interesting to see how an emerging coral can impact the world.
Tantra, Turquoise/Coral and the Zen Monk
Coming back to the Tantric perspective on life, which is Turquoise and Coral by definition, we can take a step back, and just like the Zen Monk’s refusal to label anything of what is happening to him as good or bad, we can become observers of our own thoughts, and actions – as well as of others’- and become curious about them. Especially when we are coming from reactivty, anger or hate, and their bed-fellows, shame and guilt. From that curious place we can connect with our hearts and what gives us joy – which makes us infinitely powerful as agents of change – because we understand, on a deeply embodied level – that the (only) way we change the world long-term is by changing ourselves, and that the path towards change is by operating from truth, love and joy instead of anger. That is, we can identify problems and choose to address them, as most entrepreneurs do, yet, the difference is how we do it. If our actions come, for example, from the perspective that the environment is dying – and I believe that it’s my job to save it, my motivation is coming from a place of lack, and fear. If I come from a place where I say that I love the environment and I want to offer my services to it, my motivation is more holistic and encompassing, and I can therefore create a stronger impact, without being attached to the results.
All is welcome. Including your comments:).
PS. Note that I’ve compiled this article by using different sources, and added my own thoughts in the process. What’s also important to point out is that I’m not a researcher or specialist in this area, but I have a deep interest in adult development, which always has made intuitive sense to me.
PPS. If you want to read further, there is a Swedish researcher, Kristian Stålne, who studies Adult Development (within the school of Engineering), who writes in English, on a more academic level. Highly recommended.