Everything is relative…right?
Well, it sure looks that way if you’re at one of the postconventional developmental levels, those beyond the rational, conventional levels. In this post we’ll look at the first of those levels, the Individualist. I’m going to make this post fairly short by just describing this one level. And, at the end I have a recommendation for you–one that doesn’t cost anything!
In my opinion, these postconventional levels are where it REALLY DOES get interesting.
(NOTE: Several people have asked me how they can take Susanne Cook-Greuter’s sentence completion test–the most sophisticated and accurate test in the developmental field–in order to find out where you score. If you’re interested in taking this test, go to www.cook-greuter.com and click on the “SCTi assessment” link at the top of the page.)
I mentioned in my last post that in moving through the preconventional and conventional stages–those we’ve looked at so far–our goal is to gain more knowledge about how we can effectively operate in the world. During these stages we define progress as noticing more pieces of the puzzle; discovering how things work; learning more about how to predict, measure, and explain the world; seeing and taking into account increasingly larger spans of time; and, in general, being more in charge of our lives.
These stages are about increased differentiation–in other words, the creation of an increasingly solid sense of self who can effectively operate and succeed in the world.
In the postconventional stages, something new begins to happen. Differentiation is no longer the end-game. Instead, we begin to move toward greater integration. While the previous stages were more about turning outward to master the world, the postconventional stages (and the unitive stages that follow) are more about turning inward. One’s perspective begins to shift to a greater recognition of how things go together, and how we’re connected to others rather than being individually distinct.
This doesn’t mean that we lose our sense of individual agency (in fact, the first postconventional level is called the Individualist), but we do move away from an emphasis on the individualistic perspective we’ve been developing up to this point, and begin to balance it with a recognition of how things are connected and interrelated. And, finally, we begin to recognize and question many of the fundamental assumptions of the previous stages.
At the postconventional and unitive stages we increasingly see the world as one big, dynamic, interconnected system rather than a random assortment of individual things and events. We began our life embedded in the world in a completely undifferentiated way, unable to tell the difference between me and not-me. From that point, we’ve gradually differentiated into an independent and separate self. Now, as we move into the postconventional stages and beyond, we move more toward seeing and experiencing what many describe as an ultimate “oneness with everything.”
One huge difference in the postconventional stages is a new recognition that nothing is fixed, and that everything exists in relation to everything else. From one spot, things looks like this, from another spot they look like that. Everything is dependent upon context and relationship.
In this post, I want to discuss the stage Susanne Cook-Greuter refers to as the Individualist (also called the Pluralist). The Achiever, the previous stage, was able to take a third person perspective, watching himself as he interacted with the world. The Individualist can take a 4th person perspective–one in which he can actually observe himself observing himself interacting with the world–in other words, watch himself trying to make sense of the world.
Seeing that nothing is fixed, the Individualist deeply questions the rules, social conventions, and assumptions that seemed solid and objectively true at the Achiever stage. Now, it becomes obvious that everything is an interpretation, and which interpretation you choose depends upon where you look from. In one culture certain things seem true, while in another other things are true. Total objectivity is impossible. What conventional society sees as “right” is just one point of view, and from another perspective, things look different. Even within a given culture, each person has their own perspective, their own experience.
Rationality no longer seems to be the pinnacle of human achievement, or the best and only way to solve problems or navigate through life. Intuition and awareness of one’s body now become additional sources of information. This heightened self-knowledge allows for more empathy with others. At this stage there is more emphasis on being, and less on doing and thinking.
For the Individualist, one’s sense of self becomes, well…very individual. Distrusting conventional wisdom, the Individualist must find his or her own way, and this way of being comes from one’s own experience, one’s own search–rather from what one’s group says, or what society says. There is a new sense of freedom from previous constraints. Everything is open and possible. Imagination and playfulness reemerge. At the same time, the Individualist feels an incredible responsibility since they now must figure out who they are by relying solely upon their own internal resources and point of view. At this level you have to “find yourself.”
In seeing how everthing is relative to everything else and that no view is fixed and certain, there is a new ability to just “wait and see how things unfold,” and to appreciate and allow the contradictions and paradoxes of life to be as they are. Life no longer need to be as predictable and certain, and there is less need for quick closure.
On the other hand, the new relativistic view can be taken too far. Some Individualists throw the baby out with the bathwater, rejecting all rationality, all rules, and all conventionality in favor of one’s own, unique experience and point of view. This can lead to rejection of a lot of useful and time-tested information and wisdom.
In the extreme, an Individualist’s way of deciding what is right or wrong can lead to living almost without any principles whatsoever. Over-focus on one’s relativistic uniqueness can make connecting with others more difficult rather than easier. The shifting sands of relativity can also make “finding oneself” seem more difficult, or almost impossible. And, keeping one’s options open can lead to no decision where one is necessary.
Individualists have a systems view of the world, made possible by their ability to stand back and observe from many perspectives, and even to stand outside and watch their own perspective and actions. This allows the Individualist to challenge the assumptions and frameworks underlying his own thinking, as well as those of society. There is a growing realization that the context, structure, or process involved in a situation can reveal more, in some cases, than the content. The new insight that the interpretation of anything depends on the position of the observer leads to the idea that the observer is more than just an observer–he is a participant who influences what he observes. You may recognize this as a key idea of quantum physics, or at least a key idea of pop writers about quantum physics.
The ability to see multiple perspectives is one reason why purely rational, linear thought loses its appeal at this stage, and is replaced by a more holistic, organic approach where intuition, feelings, and context are taken into account. Process becomes as interesting–or even more interesting–than outcome. Logic is increasingly recognized as linear, while the world is multidimensional–and therefore ungraspable by merely linear and logical methods.
From this new perspective there is an appreciation that truth can ultimately never be found. Since everything is relative and context-dependent, there’s really nowhere a person can permanently stand. Individualists come to actually enjoy the paradoxes of life, rather than trying to pin things down to a certain “truth.”
The Individualist no longer needs to prove something before living by it. The futility of meaning-making becomes more obvious, given that all meanings are now seen as dependent upon the position one takes. The Achiever’s need to analyze everything gives way to a willingness to trust and enjoy the subjective moment. There is a new sense of a mind/body connection, and a greater reliance on “bodily wisdom.”
Individualists accord so much respect to the views of others that gatherings of Individualists often consist of each person having their say, with all viewpoints seen as equally valid. This often leads to a consensus governanace style–a lot of talk with few real decisions made and few actions taken (though participants do feel heard and acknowledged).
Where the Achiever was focused on causality (by looking into the past) and goals (by looking into the future), the Individualist is more fascinated with now, the present. This focus on now is one reason why the Individualist is so interested in process and context rather than outcomes. Where the Achiever was clear about his solid sense of self, the Individualist may see himself has having many voices, acting one way in a certain situation, and in an entirely different way in another. This can create inner conflict, and Individualists may feel anxiety about integrating these different aspects of themselves.
The Individualist’s new ability to introspect and observe leads to a greater empathy, and a greater spontaneity. Others, however, can see them as unpredictable or flaky, as unpreductive non-doers, and as someone who can be indefinite and impossible to nail down.
In the next post we’ll look at the next stage, the Strategist, and then we’ll move on to the two unitive stages.
(Again, if you want to take Susanne Cook-Greuter’s sentence completion test to determine your developmental level, go to www.cook-greuter.com and click on the “SCTi assessment” link at the top.)
Before I sign off, however, I promised you a recommendation–in fact, one that’s absolutely free. I want to suggest that you check out a teleseminar series created by a friend of mine, Michael Walker, of Zentimental. The series is called Masters of the Mind, and includes Michael’s fascinating interviews with a number of noted teachers, including:
Success and business guru, Mark Joyner, of Simpleology…
My friend Marci Shimoff (author of Chicken Soup for the Women’s Soul, and the current bestseller, Happy for No Reason)…
Another good friend, Dr. Kevin Hogan, author of many books, an expert in influence and in body language, and a super-funny guy…
Yet another old friend of mine, Janet Atwood, creator of The Passion Test (Janet adores me, so I really like her)…
Well-known marketing guru Dan Kennedy…
My friend Dr. John DeMartini (an amazing guy who was featured in The Secret and is one of the best examples I know of ‘crazy wisdom’)…
And quite a few others…
This series is free. Just go to http://www.zentimental.com/centerpointe. You’ll be asked to give your first name and email, and then Michael will email you regarding how and when to call in to listen to the teleseminar calls. Or, for a small fee you can also download the calls and put them on your iPOd or other MP3 player or burn them onto CDs, allowing you to listen to them over and over (and, very likely learn more from them). If you don’t want to do that, it’s free.
That’s it. Be well.
(click the player above to listen to this post)
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