HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
Sunday, February 3, 2008
Then it’s the blue ones who can’t accept
The green ones for living with
The black ones tryin’ to be a skinny one
Different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby
Ooh sha sha
We gotta live together
—Sly (Stewart) and the Family Stone
Okay. This article may turn out to be quite nerdy and bookish, but I think you’ll find it interesting. I’ve been wanting to write about Spiral Dynamics but have stopped myself from doing so. In truth, I am intimidated by the topic because I thought that in order to do it justice, I would need a lot of print space. Furthermore, it is a complicated topic with lots of nuances and I will surely fall short of giving it the clarity it deserves.
But I was able to read a very short summary recently in thinkarete.com which showed me that it is possible to discuss Spiral Dynamics in broad, simplistic strokes.
Spiral Dynamics is a very engaging theory put forward by Don Beck, Chris Cowan and Dr. Clare Graves.
According to the SD people, Spiral Dynamics is “a map to the nature of human nature. It is a point of view and a way of thinking better about differences in leadership, learning, management, social structures, economics and virtually every other area where human coping strategies have an impact.”
Basically, SD posits that people and cultures evolve and pass through different stages of development. Not everyone is in the same place at any given time. In short, different strokes for different folks. SD color-codes these stages for simple discussion. As you read on, think of societies, institutions, world events and people throughout history that fit the descriptions. For this article, I will discuss just a few of these stages represented by colors.
Red. The world is viewed through tribal sensibility. Societies like these are clannish, always feel threatened and are always stuck in survival mode, ready to defend themselves and kill, if necessary. Nature, diversity are adversaries. There is a need for control. It’s them against us. Dictatorship or autocracy is the preferred political system. Justice is defined as “an eye for an eye” at best. If you could compare this stage to a child’s development, it would be the “terrible twos,” as in, “I’ll blow you up if you piss me off.”
Blue. This is a mindset that posits a higher power ruling over good and evil. Society’s rules are based on beliefs anchored on what it considers as sacred texts that are interpreted literally. Spiritual life is mainly about mass religion with a very traditional bent. Think of the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments, the Koran, the Talmud. It is absolutist, dogmatic, unwavering, and yes, quite non-rational. The fundamentalist stance is the only view that is valid. Rules are paramount and rigidly followed. Capital punishment is part of the justice system.
At this stage, adherence to religion as described by SD people is “mythic membership” and obedience to it is everything. For example, “blue” sensibilities killed Galileo for saying that the world revolved around the sun. In today’s context, institutions or societies that reject evolution or the scientific method are largely “blue.” In the local context, certain “blue” groups vote monolithically during elections.
Green. Think of globalization, environmentalism, pluralism, multi-culturalism. This can be a mindset of humaneness and sharing. There is a lot more openness. There is universal concern for human rights, conflict resolution, poverty alleviation, etc. Compassion and rehabilitation are necessary elements of justice. Morality and meaning are relativistic and situational. Spirituality is more about the personal experience of God as oneness with everything than rituals of organized religion.
To be sure, there are many more shades of color, and their value systems and worldviews overlap and merge at certain points between adjacent colors.
The stages or colors mentioned above are part of what SD calls the “first tier.” There are more stages after these, and the system is open-ended. More on this later.
But meanwhile, here’s the rub. People at any specific stage or color are convinced that theirs is the true perception or worldview.
As a result, each color probably looks at all the others and feels quite offended, or even aghast at what it sees, especially because their worldview does not comply with their own. For example, green may perceive orange as crass, power-hungry capitalists motivated solely by greed and profit, and condemn orange people as destroyers of the planet.
On the other hand, orange will look at green with scorn as tree-hugging New Age hippies who would rather save the blue-tailed moths, do yoga or look at crystals than get a job and be productive members of society.
Blue gazes at everything it sees and, in one fell swoop, it condemns everyone but feels sorry for them since they are all destined to go to hell because they do not subscribe to the God which blue worships.
Meanwhile, red does not see any value in discussing anything. It looks at everyone and says, “F___ you! I’m blowing your *ss up.”
I am being simplistic here, but you get the idea. And even if, as they progress, these stages seem to allow a wider latitude for tolerance, none of them are open enough. Why? Because the basic flaw shared by all first-tier colors is that they have an “either/or” relationship with the others. Either you see it my way, or it’s the highway. No single color, not even green, can appreciate fully the validity of other perspectives.
Here is where the second-tier stages come in. The second-tier stages are composed of consciously evolved worldviews and perspectives that “transcend and include” (Ken Wilber’s term) all the previous colors mentioned. In this higher tier, for the first time, it is possible to hold multiple perspectives. As Ken Wilber lightly put it, “No one is smart enough to be 100-percent wrong.”
While I present these stages in an offhand, almost caricature-like manner, it is important to state that, aside from their pathologies, each stage has its virtues. And the second-tier stages do a better job of seeing this than first-tier perspectives.
Where did second-tier thinking come from? The answer has to be “from the first tier,” since we all necessarily pass through each tier to get to the next. Today, more and more people have the surplus energy, time and resources to explore their inner selves and so are more open to second-tier thinking.
How, then, do second-tier people see the world? For one, they have no problem seeing the need to take care of the environment and having a prosperous economy, which, in the eyes of the green group, may seem mutually exclusive. They also appreciate the need to use power and aggressive action when needed, yet do not “lose it” by being excessive. In other words, second-tier people have infinitely better-thought-out responses to any given situation.
To reach second tier (yellow to turquoise) demands a more conscious, deliberate approach to everything. It means becoming more accepting, less judgmental, holistic and integrated in approach, and consciously taking charge of one’s evolving — all the while taking into account the diversity and stages of development one may find himself in.
Thus, the need to curb global warming (primarily a green concern), for example, may involve the orange reliance on science boosted by blue’s view of the holiness of life as described by sacred text. The second tier does a marvelous job of managing all this better than any color or stage at the first tier.
Spiral Dynamics is such a fascinating subject and there are many sources to explore. Read Dr. Clare Graves, or try Ken Wilber’s many books on how to live an integral life.
Watching the Davos discussions last week on CNN, as world leaders talked about terrorism, the global economy, the environment and the
For the new world to come to fruition, it must first be imagined. Old stories and myths must be set aside and new thinking must come in. Second-tier consciousness may be the arena where this will happen.
* * *
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