When you’re dealing with something like Spiral Dynamics, most folks get caught up either in a.) a superficial understanding of surface-level definitions (perilous, when one considers the nested, emergent structure of SD — remember how once you get up to a particular level, you’ve got all the stuff underneath you at some level of your disposal?) or an attitude that it simply can’t be understood. Both views aren’t very useful. But SD really is. You simply have to start thinking evolutionarily. That’s a mouthful.
What does that mean for you? You have to realize that any system, or person that you’re looking at, both has the place it is at currently, and then the forces or dynamics that create change. If you want to make progress understanding either the system or that person, you draw a boundary around either/or, and you don’t worry so much about someone screaming at you about the fact that what you’re talking about is connected to something else. Because everything is connected. Unless, of course, you want the input.
Let’s consider an ideal person in the U.S. and apply the SD paradigm of growth to a person. See the figure above.
Survival mode is at the bottom, and few will argue that a baby is in a big-time ‘I’ mode! Magical thinking is Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. If you ask a 4-year-old how Santa gets all those presents to all those kids, she will tell you ‘reindeer’! And then get pretty mad when you start pulling out those ‘Santa burning up on re-entry’ calculations.
I think that most folks are in agreement that young people need appropriate authority, and good rules. Following all that is the need for performance, mastery and achievement, followed by community. After that, being around other unique people hopefully drives self-awareness — that we really different than others in a meaningful way. The final step (on this chart) is ‘Global Holistic’ — and the interpretation on the slide is as good a way as any in coming to terms with it. How do you fit into the larger world? How big is that world?
One way to tell if your own world is positively evolutionary is to look at if the current v-Meme you’re at is backed up by the level above. Does your authority follow rules? Or do they lie? Are your rules targeted toward producing benefit, or control? Does what you produce benefit the community as well as yourself? Does your community encourage you speaking out on issues? (development of personal agency.) Or do they just want you to follow the rules?
Additionally, there’s a very important concept that comes up, that I call scaffolding. Remember that any v-Meme not only contains the new information in it, but is nested with all the stuff below that. Let’s say you’re pretty performance-oriented and want to make a lot of money. But you had a bad relationship with your father, the authority figure, and his rules. Are you going to rebel against authority, or cheat on your taxes? It depends on the individual, the other v-Memes, and how they affected your empathetic development. One of the interesting things I’ve observed is what I call v-Meme acceleration (you’re more empathetically advanced for your age) or devolution (you’re at a place where you might be very performance-focused, but in the end all you want to do is buy fancy cars — pretty egocentric.) Naturally, these things apply to human communities as well. Which is the subject of our next blog post…
Takeaways: SD can be mapped to numerous parts of human social evolution. The slide above is one example for a typical person living in the U.S. But SD is trans-cultural. One can apply this to any person in the world, with shifts in ages and growth dependent on their culture. Scaffolding is a big concept — what we are now is built on our past. If we skip stages, odds are the holes will show up sooner or later.
Further Reading: While prepping for this blog post, I was trying to figure out how to escape the recursive trap implied in the title sentence. That made me remember the famous story about the world being on the back of a turtle, and then that turtle being on the back of a turtle, and so on. Turns out I’m not the only one looking to use that analogy. Read here about Turtles all the way down!
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