This is a fairly complex one. There are books written about this, but the good ones are huge and filled with lots of technical talk and have so much information in them that it’s difficult to take in for anyone. In fact, the whole idea is fairly complex and the books are just a reflection of this. It would take a long time to be familiar with all the interlocking ideas and even more to understand their practical implications.
So let’s cut to the basics, shall we? The Graves model, spiral dynamics, whatever you want to call this model, it describes different levels of development. The levels can be applied to individuals, to cultures, to countries, to religions or basically to any group you can think of. The levels aren’t a positive or negative judgement, they’re a neutral assessment of what drives the subject, what concerns them and how much of the world they can see. The levels can be applied to the natural life stages as well, with the first Graves level being equivalent to babies and the third to teenagers and so on.
That isn’t to say that people move automatically and naturally up through the stages, so that when they die at 80 they are at the final stage and completely developed. People can get arrested at any stage, become stuck there, trapped by the same issues, the same viewpoints and confronting the same problems for the rest of their life. I’m sure we’ve all met people who seem like they’re trapped in one stage of development and don’t move on from it. The people who do continue to grow, to work on themselves, to continuously learn new and better ways to act and interact and react, these are the ones who move up through the levels.
But more than individual capabilities restrict movement between the levels. As with all of life, the Graves model is based on systems thinking. So if the society around you demands that you be at a certain level to survive, than you won’t move past that level. And on a less treacherous level, if the culture around you is at a certain level, you’re going to have trouble moving too far past that level, the people around you won’t understand and will resist. The very structures of the society around you will act as an anchor to pull you back.
You can see this in America at the moment. People who want to build walls to keep out the bad men, they are working with old solutions that didn’t work back then and definitely won’t work now. But they’re stuck at that lower level, they can’t see further. And as I keep saying, you can’t see what you can’t see. All they know is that this is their strategy and they’ll keep at it no matter what. Sounds a lot like the individuals who are stuck making the same bad decisions over and over and not seeing the problem that everyone around them can see, doesn’t it? But is it their fault that they’re stuck there?
That’s a more interesting question.
Why are they stuck there? Why did so much of the world move forward and leave them behind? What stopped them moving forward?
The answers to these questions are too complex and too involved to even start to address in two pages. I’ve only just started asking them in my head and expect to be at it for a sizeable amount of time. But they’re questions that need to be asked. An election was recently won on the vote of people who are stuck at a lower level than they need to be to survive in our rapidly changing world. That makes it everyone’s problem. That makes these questions important for everyone to ask. The result of their inability to move forward was a president who has temper tantrums over tweets. He has his finger on America’s nuclear button. How can people not see that this is a terrible thing?
If so many people thought that this was a good idea, than the problem isn’t just the people who voted for him. The problem is a society that has mostly moved on, but has left too many people behind.
So what level do we need to be at? Well, that depends on what you want. The levels are numbered, or depicted by colour. The odd numbers are individual levels. People at this level are concerned with their own individual needs, wants, and developments. People at this level are independent and focussed on the individual. Even numbers are community levels. The focus is on the community as that individual sees it. And for each level, the territory the individual can see widens. At the lowest level, the individual sees only themselves. As they move up through the levels they start to see their family, their tribe, their country as almost an extension of themselves. As in, what is best for the individual is what makes their ‘family’, however large that has become, happiest and healthiest.
You can see the issues with this. At level three, an individual level, the formerly community based society produces some very strong individuals who start to see other communities that have more than them. So they go to war and take what the other community has. At level four, a society creates laws. They obey the laws unthinkingly. They believe in the supremacy of their specific community over all others. They want to make America great again. They care nothing for the rest of the world because they honestly can’t see it. And sometimes, when they get stuck there, they try to bring the rest of society down to their level, to a level they understand and can deal with.
I don’t know what level I am at. With this model, it’s not as simple as taking a test online and settling neatly into your box. An individual can be at a level and still have markers of lower levels because of emotional stunting, or higher levels because they’re in the process of moving up. And when you apply this to societies it can get even more complex. But what is most important about the Graves model is not that a person or a country is one thing or another. It’s about understanding. It’s understanding that not everyone can see the same things that you can, understanding that some people are at a lower level and so have different concerns. And I’m coming to think that these concerns, coming from people at lower levels, should be listened to, but not allowed to direct or control the development of a society that is mostly at a higher level. But they shouldn’t be ignored either. Finding a way to help them move up the levels, to see new things and new approaches to problems has to be our primary obligation as a functioning society.