This is an essay, meaning that it is significantly longer than a regular blog post. You may want to bookmark it an come back to it if you don’t finish it in one reading. I did it in this format because I felt that the topic was better served within a single essay format than by breaking it up into parts. As always, your comments are welcomed in the comments section below. I will be on vacation for a few weeks and will not be posting – I will check in on your comments, however.
A thousand times I have ascertained and found it to be true:
the affairs of this world are really nothing into nothing.
Still though, we should dance.
Humanity seems to be in the process of waking up to some of our collective past inequities. This is nothing new, all of human history is about waking up as we learn and develop, however the current awakenings, sometimes called becoming “woke,” are to be celebrated. We are waking up to the idea that in the past, we have been unfair or worse in our collective characterizations, definition, and actions toward just about anyone who was not a part of the current dominant race or class.
This has included people of color, women, children, those who did not conform to rigid gender definitions and expressions, and so on. From the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, the Women’s Movement in the 1970’s, and LGBTQIA+ Pride movements beginning in the 1980’s, we have seen an awakening in (in the developed nations at least) in varying degrees to the need to recognize and honor equality. These movements are among the expressions of the Postmodern-Green Level of Existence in the The Spiral Dynamics™ Model (LINK). The Green level is complex and those arriving at this level of complexity view exposing past wrongs as essential in the process of moving forward to a healthier cultural future.
This awakening process is far from over, and once it is, there will undoubtedly be other things to awaken to, but we are making some progress, if not enough fast enough. This essay is an exploration of this dynamic, where it seems to be stuck and how it can move forward.
“A lot of our ideas about what we can do at different ages and what age means are so arbitrary — as arbitrary as sexual stereotypes. I think that the young-old polarization and the male-female polarization are perhaps the two leading stereotypes that imprison people. The values associated with youth and with masculinity are considered to be the human norms, and anything else is taken to be at least less worthwhile or inferior. Old people have a terrific sense of inferiority. They’re embarrassed to be old. What you can do when you’re young and what you can do when you’re old is as arbitrary and without much basis as what you can do if you’re a woman or what you can do if you’re a man.”
~ Susan Sontag
It seems that human nature is such that if people can hold themselves above someone else, or hold their group above other groups, they will usually do so. If a previously subjugated group ends up in power, they are likely to subjugate their former oppressors, at first by seeking revenge, and then by institutionalizing the subjugation. The process of seeking equality with a group which has held you in bondage or subjugated you or otherwise treated you badly is always a struggle and it is difficult to see the oppressor as human or as worthy of love or respect.
“When we are in conflict we tend to make such sharp oppositions between ideas and attitudes and get caught and entangled in what seems to be a hopeless choice, but when the neurotic ambivalence is resolved one tends to move beyond sharp differences, sharply defined boundaries and begins to see the interaction between everything, the relation between everything.”
~ Anaïs Nin
When an individual or group is centered at any of the first 5 Levels of Existence (represented by the colors Beige, Purple, Red, Blue, and Orange) the process of stereotyping and the conquest of others is a generally accepted way of life within the values systems of those levels. Human history bears this out, of course, and today we are dealing with both current expressions of these values systems and the after-effects of that history, most notably the periods of the Crusades and European Colonialism (including the expansion into the Americas). The murder and enslavement of the peoples of Africa, the murder and denial of education to vast swaths of the Arab world, and the genocide of the Native American peoples have left us legacies of deep harm which have yet to be fully understood, much less repaired in our times. In the East, the pogroms of Russia and the USSR, the Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse Tung, and the genocide of Pol Pot, among other atrocities, continue to affect the cultural evolutionary process.
“A stereotype carries no numinosity, no living energy, no intensity of feeling. A stereotype is a worn-out vision, a dead archetype, or perhaps even worse, a parody of it.”
~ Marion Woodman, Jungian analyst
The emergence of Postmodern-Green, the most complex 1st Tier Level of Existence (LINK), has brought the emergence of systems thinking, or the ability to see many more connections among human systems than was previously possible. A result of this is the capacity and the desire to recognize past injustices and bad practices, reveal them, and encourage society to take steps to bring about a more egalitarian and fair culture.
While this is a positive step in our overall cultural development, there are new and complex challenges which arise when deep cultural shadows are brought to the light. While most people who are centered at the Green Level of Existence see the necessity of such revelations and also value egalitarian expressions of culture in all circumstances, those who are centered at less complex levels have different values. These include resistance to deep shadow exploration, both personal and societal. At the Traditionalist-Blue level, nationalistic pride takes precedence over any suffering which resulted in the building of one’s nation. Also, a more simplistic worldview sees through a very personal lens and has less understanding of differences which are not within their own experience. Racism and sexism become institutionalized and largely invisible to the privileged groups, who have little incentive to look beneath the surface.
Note that oppressed people at every Level of Existence on the Spiral are aware of their oppression and have a deeper understanding of its dynamics, since they live with it every day and do not have the privilege of ignoring it.
The emergence of those centered at Green in larger and larger numbers brings a values system which seeks to dig deeper as part of the process to create a fair and equitable society, including making amends for past oppression. But these Green voices are distinct if growing minority and have less presence in the centers of cultural power than Modernist-Orange and Traditionalist-Blue currently have. The response to calls for greater equality, civility, and non-violence in our society has often been a backlash of the opposite – because those levels below Green do not share the same values or worldview.
The typical white person in the middle or working class has a different lens, but one which generally supports the billionaires and power brokers, whom they admire. At Blue and especially Orange there is value in making it on your own, and there is little acknowledgement that everyone in a nation like the United States doesn’t have equal opportunities to succeed. This is a mostly, but far from entirely, unconscious belief system. Another example is the mostly unconscious, culturally driven nature of Blue/Orange racism which is captured well in this quote from a recent article:
“If you asked rural Americans how they felt about people of any particular minority group, most would pride themselves on having an unassuming, open-minded acceptance. And, for the most part, that is true on a personal level. But, to them, racism is a Klansman in a movie. It isn’t a contemporary power structure, or an implicit bias that gets black teenagers killed. They don’t see that. They can, on the other hand, see themselves struggling. They just very earnestly do not get it. The minorities they do know are — like that little girl in my third-grade class — pressured to fit in, to stay quiet. They’re not talking much about racism.”
~ Larry Womack, The Independent, UK (LINK)
Those who seek to bring about a more egalitarian and sustainable future for humanity, most of whom are centered at Green and above, would do well to have a greater understanding of the levels of complexity and the values systems of those centered elsewhere on the spiral. Those at any Level of Existence on the Spiral who do not have an understanding of the dynamics of the spiral, believe others share their own values system and that they only have to convincingly state their premise and others will see the truth of it and come into harmony or compliance. This is particularly true at the Green level, where feelings are very important. This naivety regarding how they are being heard has led to a considerable amount of anger at Green expressions, and those at Green are uncomfortable with anger. This has led to expressions such as “Call-Out Culture” (LINK) and “Cancel Culture” (LINK), two ways of using social media to correct what is judged to be bad behavior. Green will try to lovingly bring people into compliance but can become authoritarian (channeling Blue values) if others do not comply.
The problem with these approaches is that they are perceived by their targets as coming from levels of complexity and values systems which they do not possess or accept. Each 1st Tier Level of Existence works best within its own level and has difficulty working across levels. Many at Orange and below, for example, see the Green views on sexism and racism as overly sensitive and unrealistic; this is especially true on topics such as gender fluidity and cultural misappropriation.
In November, according to some conservative media outlets, there was a “War on Thanksgiving” – meaning the Green focus on recognizing the true story of early settlers and Native Americans rather than the fairy tale generally taught to children and believed by adults. This, of course, sits beside the ongoing “War on Christmas” which consists of suggestions that “Happy Holidays” be a default greeting if you do not know the faith tradition of the person(s) to whom you are speaking. But most of those in privileged groups centered at Orange and below don’t want to be told that their cherished nation and its traditions are essentially flawed, or that their default Christian culture is not at the center of Americanism. With some exceptions, they simply will not hear it.
We also see push-back and cries of excessive political correctness by comedians and others against proposed bans on certain kinds of jokes. While the views expressed by those centered at Green reflect more complex ways of looking at these issues and a compassionate desire for people to be accepted for who they are, these points are lost on many at Orange and below on the spiral. This segment from Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee is about this topic:
It is important to note that each of the Levels of Existence on the Spiral were once leading-edge thinking. When Living Conditions became more complex people tended to adapt to new levels of complexity. Those who do not adapt have trouble keeping up with greater complexity, and the pace of change and increased complexity is growing ever more rapid. This means that if you do not adapt, you get further behind, making life more difficult in many ways.
It is also important to note that at every Level of Existence on the Spiral, the thinking and values are internally logical – they just may not be adequate to address a more complex outside world. As we move up through the Spiral by adapting to more complex Living Conditions, it is important that we retain the positive values of each level as we leave it behind – Red assertiveness, Blue ethical systems, Orange self-agency, and so on. If we do not retain these healthy values, we are more likely to express in unhealthy ways at higher levels. This shows up as Orange refusing to accept Blue regulatory processes on Orange’s excesses or as Green refusing to accept Orange self-agency and expecting everyone to accept whatever Green is saying as irrefutable.
While many of the emerging ideas from the Green level are, in fact, morally good ideas arising from a more complex worldview, the authors of these ideas and their supporters often fail to understand the dynamics of complexity and values on the entire spiral. They sometimes take absolutist positions as to the rightness of these ideas and are surprised when others do not agree; then all too frequently, they denigrate those who do not agree. The idea of being woke or being in tune with the prevalence of racism and sexism in the dominant culture is seen as a given by many at Green, but is generally viewed as a form of elitism and political correctness at Blue and Orange.
Hence #CancelCulture and other hashtags like #GenderFluidity and #HeyBoomer, are, ironically, used to be dismissive of others outside the parameters of healthy Green values. There is always truth in the issues raised, however, those accused of being complicit in mass misbehavior often do not see things in the same way. Raising awareness is a first step in bringing change, and in that first step there will be dissonance as people hear things for the first time. The question for me is how to best move through that dissonance toward resonance more quickly and with less negativity.
This brief Twitter exchange illustrates this point:
The comment from @ChaosComet about being perceived as part of the problem regardless of intention gets an accurate but very Postmodernist-Green and complex response from @emrazz. If @ChaosComet is centered at Orange or below on the Spiral, they will not get the complexity nor see the value in the complex idea – they will find it confusing and feel unheard or diminished. The real issue here is not so much one of values, but one of complexity and how we communicate with one another.
True equality is taking so long to realize because the strong desire for it is only recently emerging in human thinking and values systems. To progress forward more rapidly, we need strong, positive, and compassionate leadership, 2nd Tier worldviews and skills, including the solutions noted below.
There are few immediate solutions because we are in a time where change is constant, the old models are in decline or have already failed, and the new models have yet to emerge or be recognized. This means that we have to find our way forward without a clearly defined understanding of where we are going in most instances. This requires a different set of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) for leaders.
“Whatever leadership used to be — it used to be. Now, it has to be something different. Now, we all have to be more than we were. The kind of leadership that I want to explore may not be identifiable as leadership at all. I am interested in a kind of mutually alert care and attention to the well-being of all people and ecological systems. This kind of leadership cannot be found in individuals, but rather between them. It cannot be found in organizations, nations, religions or institutions, but rather between them. I have called it Liminal Leadership to highlight the relational characteristics.”
~ Nora Bateson
Leadership today is like being a ship’s captain before modern navigational instruments, sailing through a fog that goes on and on. You have to keep the crew motivated during uncertain times – and today’s “crew” consists of people at various stages of development in terms of complexity and values. Those in leadership positions need to be sensitive to the different values systems present and communicate across the spiral effectively. It begins with kindness and the development of compassion.
“I have read somewhere of an old Chinese curse: ‘May you be born in an interesting time!’ This is a VERY interesting time: there are no models for ANYTHING that is going on. It is a period of free fall into the future, and each has to make his or her own way. The old models are not working; the new have not yet appeared. In fact, it is we who are even now shaping the new in the shaping of our interesting lives. And that is the whole sense (in mythological terms) of the present challenge: we are the ‘ancestors’ of an age to come, the unwitting generators of its supporting myths, the mythic models that will inspire its lives.”
~ Joseph Campbell, Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine
Another key factor, one that is not directly addressed in the Spiral Dynamics Model, is the emotional intelligence (EQ) (LINK) of those involved, especially leaders. EQ is the ability to know and manage one’s emotions and to have an awareness of the emotional states of others. In uncertain times, the pressure rises, and emotional intelligence is more and more important for us to navigate.
“As much as 80% of adult ‘success’ comes from EQ.”
~ Daniel Goleman
What we often see in Green’s attempt to get other stages to accept responsibility for (or complicity in) past bad practices is low emotional intelligence on one or both sides of the conversation. In such cases, the conversation becomes a shouting match and future harmony becomes more difficult to manifest. It takes high emotional intelligence to calmly process your own shortcomings, especially if you are hearing them for the first time. It also takes high emotional intelligence to communicate in such a way as to raise awareness and gain cooperation in getting to resolution of deep cultural issues.
One positive leadership practice can be to model and teach emotional intelligence in your community or organization. When integrated with positive spiritual principles, this is a very powerful way to develop spiritual poise.
Another positive leadership practice is to model and teach good listening skills in your community or organization. This is an essential element of compassion – the ability and willingness to listen deeply, both within yourself and to others.
A third positive leadership practice is to model and teach humility in your community or organization. To be humble is to be true to what you are, which is a divine being having a human experience, but one who still has much to learn.
A fourth positive leadership practice is to model and teach patience, especially patience for people to develop along the spiral to more complex stages and values systems. This can be a challenging aspect of leadership – impatience with those who are not as developed as you, perhaps not as woke as you. It is important to remember that all of us are works in progress and that none of us is in our final form.
Emotional Intelligence, Deep Listening, and Humility tempered with Patience are a strong foundation for building equality in spiritual community and in organizations. When applied well, people at all Levels of Existence can cooperate and co-create interdependent living systems which can contribute to creating The Beloved Community.
“A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live and move and have their being, conditions that can be either as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A leader must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside his or her own self, inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.”
~ Parker Palmer
Copyright 2019 – Jim Lockard
I will be leading a retreat for men on healthy masculinity at
The Center for Spiritual Living Simi Valley
on January 3rd (evening) and 4th (9a-5p).
If you are in the SoCal area and are interested, visit the link:
AVAILABLE ON AMAZON: