are what we think.
An Interview With Don Beck
Dr. Don Beck
I was at a friend's wedding and suddenly realized that I was seeing the BLUE (absolutist) meme in the conservatively-dressed woman wearing a crucifix, the ORANGE (achievist) meme in the young go-getter with the Rolex, the GREEN (egalitarian) meme in the aging bearded hippie. And not only that—I'm beginning to see just how "GREEN" I am, with my longing for communal living and acceptance, my strong bias against corporations and political conservatives, and my passion for environmental causes, even though I am, admittedly, attached to driving my Audi (ORANGE), fast (RED—impulsive)!
Should I be worried? Am I typecasting other people, and myself, with these apparently broad-brushed, color-coded characterizations called "memes"? Is the Spiral Dynamics model, comprised of these memes, simply a convenient way to avoid having to grapple with the complexity and diversity of human beings and the challenge to discern who we really are? On the contrary, I have been finding that, rather than a cold analytical detachment or one-dimensional perspective, Spiral Dynamics is giving rise to a profound clarity of insight into the sweeping patterns of human psychologies, beliefs, and values (including my own) that are, often unconsciously, guiding our choices and shaping our very identities. Spiral Dynamics is also resulting in an unexpected and liberating objectivity because it places my own experience in the context of the entire history of human psychological development, the totality of which is present in each of us—from the most primitive survivalist instincts (BEIGE) to evolved spiritual aspirations (TURQUOISE), with, in my case, a good dose of righteous eco-egalitarianism (GREEN) thrown in!
But why a spiral, you might ask? Spirals are a dynamic expression of natural and cosmic forces, a "dominant universal fractal" evident in everything from our DNA code to the spiraling galaxies that inhabit the universe. Spiral Dynamics posits that the evolution of human consciousness can best be represented in this way: by a dynamic, upward spiraling structure that charts our evolving thinking systems as they arc higher and higher through levels of increasing complexity. Certainly, human consciousness has dramatically increased in complexity over the span of millennia, as evidenced by our fast-paced highly interactive world. But, despite any illusions I may have about how far up the spiral I am in my technology-rich postmodern life, according to Spiral Dynamics, we human beings are only just emerging from the first great episode of human history—a 100,000-year epoch defined fundamentally by survivalism: the Spiral's "First Tier."
Dr. Don E. Beck has been developing, teaching, and implementing Spiral Dynamics for nearly three decades. Transmitting the genuinely inclusive or "integral" perspective that is the essence of the Spiral Dynamics model, Beck portrays the vast tapestry of global cultures with the care, insight, and easy familiarity with which one might speak about the members of one's extended family, each with their unique capacities and challenges. And this evolved humanitarianism conveys Beck's passionate and sincere conviction that Spiral Dynamics can resolve the immense challenges and responsibilities we face at this juncture in history.
Indeed, one could call Don Beck a philosopher-activist for the new millennium. As cofounder of the National Values Center in Denton, Texas, and President and CEo of the Spiral Dynamics Group, Inc., a global enterprise, he is, by his own definition, a "Spiral Wizard," employing the Spiral Dynamics model to effect large-scale systems change in and among various sectors and societies of the world. Together with Christopher Cowan, he wrote Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change in 1996, which is based on and enhances the groundbreaking "Value Systems" theory of human development proposed by the late Professor Clare Graves. Beck's long consulting career has taken him to such diverse settings as 10 Downing Street, to meet with members of Tony Blair's Policy Unit; inner-city Chicago, to address the difficulties faced by educational institutions there; the World Bank, to address the future of Afghanistan; and the boardrooms of major banks, energy companies, airlines, and government agencies.
Don Beck has discussed racial issues with President Bill Clinton and deep reconciliation strategies with President Nelson Mandela, playing a central role in the peaceful creation of a democratic South Africa, for which he received a legislative honor in 1996 in his home state of Texas. More recently, he has joined forces with integral philosopher Ken Wilber and President of the Arlington Institute John Petersen, among others, to make Spiral Dynamics an even more powerful tool "for managing large-scale interventions, change, and transformation"—a new initiative called "Spiral Dynamics integral" (SDi).
Drawing from his vast experience, Dr. Beck illustrates why Spiral Dynamics is invaluable for anyone who sincerely recognizes the necessity for human transformation and global reconciliation at this critical and all-demanding period in history. And indeed, as one becomes familiar with Spiral Dynamics, it easily becomes apparent why this compelling theory is called nothing less than "a new definition of human nature [and of the] evolutionary significance of human intelligence."
The Eight-Stage Spiral of Development
Second Tier: "Being" valueMEMES
TURQUOISE Holistic MEME—starting 30 years ago
Basic theme: Experience the wholeness of existence through mind and spirit
YELLOW Integrative MEME—starting 50 years ago
Basic theme: Live fully and responsibly as what you are and learn to become
"What I am proposing is that 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."
Dr. Clare Graves
First Tier: "Subsistence" valueMEMES
GREEN Communitarian/Egalitarian MEME - starting 150 years ago
Basic theme: Seek peace within the inner self and explore, with others, the caring dimensions of community
ORANGE Achievist/Strategic MEME - starting 300 years ago
Basic theme: Act in your own self-interest by playing the game to win
BLUE Purposeful/Authoritarian MEME - starting 5,000 years ago
Basic theme: Life has meaning, direction, and purpose with predetermined outcomes
RED Impulsive/Egocentric MEME - starting 10,000 years ago
Basic theme: Be what you are and do what you want, regardless
PURPLE Magical/Animistic MEME - starting 50,000 years ago
Basic theme: Keep the spirits happy and the tribe's nest warm and safe
BEIGE Instinctive/Survivalistic MEME - starting 100,000 years ago
Basic theme: Do what you must just to stay alive