Making sense of who you are…
I promised that we would next look at the developmental levels beyond those described by Piaget. In doing so, I’m going to rely heavily on the work of Susanne Cook-Greuter, who studied under Harvard’s Robert Kegan, one of the superstars in the world of human development. At Harvard, she became involved with the most highly regarded testing instrument for determining stages of human development, Jane Loevinger’s sentence completion test, and became a certified scorer for the test.
In the Loevinger test a person completes 36 sentence fragments, and from the responses the person’s developmental level is ascertained. This test has been used since the 1950s, and has been found to be VERY accurate. A huge amount of data has been compiled over the last 50 or so years, and the test is the most highly respected instrument in the field.
In scoring the test Cook-Greuter (who, by the way, I know personally, and have studied with) began to notice responses that did not fit any of the stages identified by Loevinger (though these stages in many ways mirror Piaget’s levels, Loevinger was focusing on the development of one’s sense of self rather than on merely cognitive development). Eventually, after a great deal of research, Cook-Greuter compiled enough data to add two additional levels to Loevinger’s model and is now considered to be one of the world’s top experts in human development, and THE expert in the higher developmental stages.
Before discussing the postconventional stages, though, I want to give you a quick “cook’s tour” of the Loevinger levels corresponding to those we’ve already looked at. This will serve as a quick review, and will also highlight the fact that there is more to development than just the cognitive line.
Though there are many naming conventions, the general developmental categories I described in previous posts might best be described as archaic (or sensorimotor in Piaget’s terminology), preconventional or magic (Piaget’s preoperational), conventional or mythic (Piaget’s concrete operational), and rational or modern (Piaget’s formal operational). There are also various names for the levels that come after these. The next couple of levels are variously described as postmodern, postconventional, postrational, or postformal (and by a few other names). After that we have unitive or transcendent stages.
Yes, I know. The names can be confusing. I would suggest thinking of them, in general, as archaic (essentially, babies and people who are completely dependent), preconventional (those who don’t yet understand the laws of cause and effect and the general “ways of the world”–children), followed by conventional, postconventional, and unitive.
In the Loevinger/Cook-Greuter developmental levels the archaic/sensorimotor level is called Symbiotic, because the infant is in a symbiotic relationship with the mother. After that, there are two preconventional stages, Impulsive and Opportunistic. Then, there are three conventional stages, Diplomat, Expert, and Achiever, with Achiever corresponding to Piaget’s formal operational level.
Then, there are the postconventional stages (which I will describe in a post I’ll make in a few days): Individualist and Strategist, followed by two Unitive (or transcendent) stages, Magician and Unitive. Cook-Greuter acknowledges that eventually Unitive may be subdivided into more stages, but there are so few people who score at Magician or Unitive that there isn’t enough data (yet) to do so.
Let’s quickly summarize the preconventional and conventional levels according to the Loveinger/Cook-Grueter scale, and then in my next post, which I plan on delivering to you within a few days, I’ll discuss the postconventional stages. Then, finally, in one last post about development, I’ll describe the unitive levels.
The early Symbiotic stage is one where the infant constructs a stable world of objects, cognitively separating himself from the world. This stage is pre-egoic and pre-verbal. The child essentially has no perspective and is an undifferentiated self. The main accomplishment of this stage is the separation of self from the world–the ability to know what is “me” and what is “not me.”
In the next stage, Impulsive, one begins to use language, and begins to experience a first-person perspective, reflected in statements such as “I want” and “mine.” The main concern of this stage is impulse gratification. This stage is one of magical thinking, with a sense of power curbed only by punishment (which is seen as random or retaliatory and unrelated to behavior). Other people are simply a source of need gratification: good ones give, mean ones don’t. At this stage the child learns to recognize simple dichotomies.
The next preconventional stage is called Opportunistic, a stage I characterized as narcissistic in previous posts. The Opportunist has an “I win, you lose” mentality. Though he knows that others have a perspective, he doesn’t have the ability to take that perspective. The Opportunist sees the world only in terms of his own needs or wants, and is quite willing to control or manipulate others to get what he wants.
Adult Opportunists are often self-protective in order to maintain their fragile self, which is centered around their own will, ideas, and wishes. They have a beginning awareness of others as separate people or objects, but use that awareness only to understand what others are after so they can better manipulate them in order to get what they want.
Opportunists try to avoid trouble but since their awareness is limited to their own needs and desires they often get into trouble by crossing boundaries. They then blame others for the consequences. Rules are followed only to gain immediate advantage or avoid punishment. Any sense of self respect result comes from achieving control over situations or people. Actions are bad only if one is caught (getting caught is bad, not the action itself). Opportunists do not understand the relationship between actions and consequences, which is one reason why they blame other for consequences they have created. This inability to understand cause and effect also leads them to believe in luck and magic. Often grandiosely fearless (another symptom on not understanding cause and effect), they sometimes choose dangerous and demanding jobs that represent the daring side of this stage.
As you would imagine, Opportunist relationships are volatile. Their feelings (especially negative feelings) are projected onto others. Opportunists have little insight into themselves and are almost entirely unable to reflect upon their own emotions. Negative feelings are always the fault of others.
Opportunists can come from one of two basic approaches: they can be aggressive in going after what they want and trying to dominate others, or they can be self-protective, fearing that others will dominate, control, or deceive them. Often what looks like aggression or attempts to dominate is also a form of self-protection.
The next stage (the first conventional stage) is the Diplomat. Most people have reached this stage by age 12, though some adults remain at the Opportunist stage. The three conventional stages (Diplomat, Expert, and Achiever) make up about 80% of people in Western countries.
In terms of Piaget’s stages, Diplomats correspond to concrete operational thinking–they use a growing knowledge of cause and effect to deal with daily events and tasks. Experts add the ability to think in abstract terms, and Achievers use formal operational thinking, the highest level of rational thought. Achiever is seen as the adult stage in most of Western culture. (See my previous posts about Piaget for more information about cognitive development.)
In healthy development, Diplomat is the stage of early adolescence, though many people remain in this stage throughout life. A Diplomat’s sense of self is defined by his role in his group, and he sees the world in terms of in-group and out-group. Instead of “me against the world” (the view of the Opportunist) his point of view is “our group against others” or “our group is better than other groups.”
Diplomats are comformists. They want to be liked, so they do their best to develop a pleasing personality, to be well-groomed, to be pleasant, to avoid the negative. They divide the world into simple categories and types of people. They accept rules, roles, and norms without questioning them. They live based on rules and “shoulds,” and identify with those who share their tastes and perspectives. The Diplomat does not yet have a true self in the sense of having a individual and separate adult identity. Instead, his self is defined by others. Self/other boundaries are blurry, and relationships are of the I-need-you variety.
The next stage is the Expert. Experts are still tied to the group, but are able to step back and look at themselves–a rudimentary type of self-relection (what is called a third-person perspective). This new and wider perspective gives them a certain distance from the group. They are still tied to the group, but see themselves as more distinct, even special. They see more individual differences, whereas the Diplomat looks for sameness. Seeing differences and alternatives, Experts are good at offering many solutions for every problem. They are, however, still unable to prioritize these solutions, something that will come at the next stage.
Again because they are able to see differences, Experts have a beginning ability to notice the distinct traits and patterns of the behavior in others, and in themselves. Needs and wants, suppressed at the Diplomat stage as a way of fitting in, begin to be expressed. Experts want to be accepted for how they are different from other group members, for their specialness, rather than for conforming. They often feel that they “have it all figured out.” They know the right way, what to believe, how to do things, and have a strong sense of the way things should be. They frequently cite “experts” to back their opinions, and in conversation often respond to others with, “Yes, but…”
While Diplomats repress aggression in order to get along, Experts are willing to express aggressive feelings, through a hostile sense of humor, through ridicule, and through defensiveness. They enjoy oppositional battles and live in a world where things are sure and clear and they feel entitled to impose their views on others.
Experts often become engineers, technocrats, bureaucrats, and some types of professionals. Experts run many of the complex but conventional everyday affairs of modern society.
The last conventional stage is the Achiever. The Achiever is a formal operational thinker. He is able to prioritize, see possibilities, look into the future, plan, and think through a course of action before acting–rather than just acting in a random manner, as in the previous stages (again, for more information, see previous posts). Achievers represent the target stage for Western culture, the rationally competent and independent adult. Where the Expert had a third-person perspective (he could stand back and observe himself and his interactions with others), the Achiever adds an additional ability to observe his past and future selves and his past and future interactions with others.
Achievers are more comfortable in diverse groups and situations than are Diplomats and Experts. They can be a part of diverse groups with different ideals, goals, and points of view without feeling torn between them or confused about who they are. They also have a greatly expanded ability for introspection, and have a much greater understanding of and insight into their own feelings, motives, personal dreams, and goals. In fact, self-analysis is a favorite passtime.
Achievers believe in the scientific method and rationality, and that this form of thought can improve the world. Achievers are busy helping to make the world a better place for everyone (another example of an expanded perspective–Diplomats and Experts are mostly concerned with themselves and their group). Having a longer and broader view, they can handle a longer delay between action and results, realizing that some of what they do might not bear fruit until well into the future.
Achievers are interested in getting things done, and may feel driven to accomplish something in the world. They are often entrepreneurs. They have strong convictions, and an idealistic enthusiasm. They convince others with rational arguments and evidence rather than by putting them down, as do Experts. They love theories, and the hypothetical. They are skeptical searchers for the truth, and trust that it eventually can be found.
This review brings us to the postconventional stages, which I will address in the next post, in a few days. Let’s step back for a moment and look at the big picture. At the preconventional and conventional stages we’re concerned with gaining more and more knowledge about how to operate effectively in the world. Progress is defined by noticing increasingly more pieces of the puzzle; discovering patterns, rules, and laws that govern how things work; learning to better predict, measure, and explain the world; seeing and taking into account an increasingly larger time span; and, in general, being able to know and do more and be more in charge of one’s life.
At these preconventional and conventional stages (which together include over 90% of people in Western nations) we are for the most part socially programmed, we use conventional linear thinking, and seek increased differentiation–in other words, we create an increasingly solid individual and independent sense of self.
When (or if) we enter the postconventional stages, we begin to move away from increased differentiation and toward greater integration. We more and more see how things go together and how we are connected to others rather than individually distinct, and begin to deal with the world from this perspective, and move away from the individualistic perpspective we’ve been developing so far. Our sense of self becomes more about connection than agency. And, we begin to recognize and question the fundamental assumptions of the previous stages–even including the reality of our sense of being a separate self.
At the postconventional and unitive stages we increasingly see the world as a giant, dynamic, interconnected system rather than a random assortment of individual units 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 have gradually differentiated into an independent and separate self. Now, as we move into the postconventional stages and beyond, we move the other way, toward seeing and experiencing what many describe as an ultimate “oneness with everything.”
In a few days, I’ll post the next installment, where we will investigate what happens in the postconventional stages.
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