Wednesday, October 18th 2017

Twirling towards freedom: The theory of Spiral Dynamics

Cultural psychology, sociology, and evolution all prove the theory of Spiral Dynamics — here’s your free lesson

spiralsmall1GUEST COLUMN: MICK QUINN AND DEBORA PRIETO — My personal opinion is that, from an absolute point of view, we are all one, and equal. However, from a relative point of view the story is a bit different. In the past, I always had trouble trying to reconcile the fact that I am the same as the Buddha. . .as well as a maniacal dictator.  We definitely don’t regularly behave like one over the other, but everyone has the potential for both types of behavior.  Studying Spiral Dynamics (SD) is what helped me find peace with this issue.

You may have heard of a concept called “meme.” It’s a word tossed around by many, such as Richard Dawkins in his three-decade-old book The Selfish Gene, and by the mystic and author Caroline Myss. But meme is just part of what is included in the theory of SD. In what follows, we’ll share with you a primer on the history and evolution of SD, as well as explain how this knowledge can benefit you personally and professionally.

How SD provides compassion

SD offers a map of human development and the needs and aspirations related to any group or meme. By clarifying the different perspectives (egocentric, ethnocentric, wordcentric, or cosmocentric) I can better understand each one. I am able to fully reconcile the fact that I will always have personal preferences but am no longer a slave to those preferences. Thus, I move on to higher horizons. By applying SD, I take full responsibility for the perspectives in myself by knowing the limitations of each. By transcending and including each meme within, I can consciously choose to be a fully functioning human being.

Understanding the ever-evolving spiral of development also gives me a more compassionate view of others. If I am relating with an individual who is at an egocentric level, I know that his or her view of the world doesn’t go beyond the self, so I cannot demand him or her to do anything for the sake of humanity. It’s just not in their consciousness — yet. But with SD, one is able to evolve through the spiral of consciousness to higher levels in a healthy, wise, and compassionate way.

SD — Original School

Dr. Clare W. Graves, Ph.D., was a visionary thinker and college professor who began laying the groundwork for the theory behind SD in the 1950s.   SD is largely a simplification and popularization of Dr. Graves’ original theories, which held that human behavior can be broken down into multiple patterns or levels of existence.

natural-spiralAccording to Dr. Graves, “The psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change.” So, the spiral emerges in response to ever increasing orders of complexity in the human mind.

He created a deep and elegant system of human development, which has been improved upon and, today, has expanded to what we refer to as SD.  The existence of eight great levels or waves of development in human consciousness allows us to look at the extraordinary history of humanity as an unfolding of higher and higher levels of development. As will be explained later, this proved useful for dealing with the diversity of human cultures.

The existence of these stages is not a mere speculation, but based on data compiled by many researchers and from many research projects. The majority of the results of the models of stages have been carefully checked in first, second, and third world countries.

The New School of Spiral Dynamics

Over the past thirty years, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan have improved on Dr. Graves’ work, producing an approach which they have labeled Spiral Dynamics. The principles of SD have been beneficially applied throughout the world in fields of business, municipal activity, reorganization of educational systems, and elimination of tensions in poor neighborhoods.  Don Beck visited South Africa over sixty times to apply the SD model in an effort to end apartheid in that country.

Memes in our World

meme_shirtSD reveals that human development flows through eight general stages, that are called memes. A meme is simply a stage of development that is being expressed according to the values of a collective of individuals – a culture. Sometimes called vMemes (v – for values), these stages are not rigid levels, but fluid, superimposed and interrelated waves that give rise to the complex dynamic spiral of the development of consciousness. The development, therefore, is not linear and symmetrical but extremely fluid, yet beautifully complex.

Think of the stage of development predominant thousands of years ago when communities of people whose meager and strenuous horticultural-based routines were the dominant lifestyle. Today, in an isolated corner of one of the most developed countries in Western Europe, this is still the way of life. Similarly, the many levels of development described in SD exist simultaneously in our world. They are mercilessly entwined, in harmony, in conflict, and yet ever evolving; the highest levels and the lowest levels of development coexist. In between, growth and alteration is harmlessly relentless.

Sources: Spiral Dynamics – Beck/Cowan: Blackwell Publishing 1996/2006.  The collected works of American Philosopher, Ken Wilber.  EnlightenNext Magazine – Fall/Winter 2002. For more information on Spiral Dynamics, please visit EnlightenNext Magazine and Spiral Dynamics Integral.

Next: The two tiers of consciousness; and how an understanding of Spiral Dynamics can help you, and those around you.

mickquinnMick Quinn is the Irish-born author of the recently released book, The Uncommon Path (O-Books UK/USA ) and the founder of several multi-million dollar companies. Mick lives in Utah and teaches with his wife Debora Prieto who uses Genpo Roshi’s Big Mind Process.  For Integral Coaching and upcoming events please visit his site.

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6 Comments on “Twirling towards freedom: The theory of Spiral Dynamics”

  1. I am wondering how spiral dynamics holds up when looked at through the lense of anthropology. so called "primitive" people are rarely that, they often have complicated kinship systems, rules of behavior, and ways of looking at the world that many in industrialized societies are starting to discover are more rational ways of thinking (ie. conservation of natural resources like animals, and plants).

    can hunters and gatherers be considered at a higher level of consciouness or evolution than those who live in industrialized society? any comments or clarification would be welcome, since i know little about sd.

    thanks, sarah

  2. Hi Sarah, great questions indeed and thank you for reading. In my own experience there is a fascinating correlation between the memes of SD and those very kinship systems and post-modern rational ways of thinking. They all reflect evolving values at the cultural level, which SD allows you to see as a hierarchy of ever-evolving. In certain ways we could say that hunter/gathers were at a higher level, but overall, I think, with all the faults of advanced values, we are much better off today.


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  3. Very interesting reading and very informative. You can never get enough of this type of simple, straight forward, educational material!

  4. Free! What right do you have to charge a fee for enlightenment. Is that a moral dilemma, perhaps.

    I believe , in the world of spirituality there are two key problems. Following instead of owning what is rightfully yours, and owning what isn't yours to own instead of following. Look to History for the meaning and the ultimate harm that has been done. Inquisitions, Taliban, Pharisees are some extreme examples.

    As I understand the spiritual quest, because we all have the same spiritual potential, its about enlightenment to an innate personal reality that spans all humanity. Like a tear of joy.

    Now joy is an interesting real example of this innate common thread within in humanity. Its tears come unannounced. It belongs to moments (zen) of selflessness (no ego) and it brings great comfort and sense of connection.

    If one had the key to this treasure wouldn't it be a selfless (joyful) gesture to rid the world of suffering for free.

    Just an opinion. Nothing is hidden from truth and spirituality, so no harm intended or possible spiritually speaking :-)

    Peace and joy for all, perhaps.

  5. Rob, your comment suggests that another article presented here on Soulcode should be based on Ken Wilber's Integral Theory. I think the answer to your own question "If one had the key to this treasure wouldn’t it be a selfless (joyful) gesture to rid the world of suffering for free" might be answered with a perspective on the human condition, that not only includes the 'orange meme' as mentioned here in these SD articles, but also on the essence of Wilber's 4th Quadrant.

    It costs you and to write here and Soulscode probably pays their webmaster more than a glass of water a day.

    If you genuinely wish to see all spiritual teachers give away everything for free then I am happy to allow that for you by forwarding you a link to some of my favorite 501c's so that you can ensure that those individuals and organization can continue their selfless work.

  6. Mick-

    I loved your article. I think that Spiral Dynamics is such a gift. Thank you for this.

    Jeanine Austin

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