A RIDICULOUS IDEA STRUCK ME as I perched in the rafters of a Vermont monastery during the late summer of 2022.
As I unobtrusively eavesdropped on Beena Sharma
, who was explaining to John Vervaeke how she uses sentence stems to produce flexible assessments of developmental complexity, I suddenly thought: Levels are back.
You can probably already tell that this article is not
specifically about Terri O'Fallon. Sure, her work with Stages International
is part of this but I could just as easily have used Beena Sharma's name. Or Kim Barta. Tom Murray. Fionn Wright. Cory David Barker. Etc. This is about a smart, cautious re-appreciation of developmental stage models.
Our overlapping transformation communities have (justly) gone through a couple years of strong critiques of developmental hierarchies of complexity.
Nora Bateson tweeted her way into being the postergirl for the genocidal resonances of modernity's factory-like appropriation of the notion of developmental stages. Graeber and Wengrow's The Dawn of Everything
provoked a complex set of historical and attitudinal challenges to the story of social development levels. Many ripples have been moving the current to challenge those models.
The best of us, I think, have been seriously trying to more deeply appreciate the embodied, cyclic, marginalized, indigenous, pluralistic and flowing aspects of reality which do not fit neatly into a "ladder of growth to wisdom and goodness" -- and we have not been doing this because we are secretly stuck at postmodern eco-pluralist altitudes of understanding.
We are now very aware that humans are flux beings who should not be abstractly pigeonholed into someone else's Procrustean bed of (probably self-serving) categories. That awareness is coupled to the realization that many people's understandings do not actually translate well into conscious, verbal articulations of values and worldview. Human beings are contextual, relational, neurodiverse and always endangered by covert ideological frameworks.
And, anyway, to help people develop you have to non-judgementally meet them in the fluidity of their participatory moment.
So these challenges are real and ethically significant but nonetheless, all along, many smart and sincere people have still been tinkering with the developmentalist toolkits. Adapting. Enhancing. Learning. They agree with the critiques. They hold the tools lightly and privilege people over constructs. ("We don't collude with the assessment,
" said Beena Sharma) and their evaluations can meet or exceed other cognitive and neuropsychological profiling tools used in professional and academic contexts.
The classic Integral People have not gone away. Spiral Dynamics still exists. MHC is an ongoing thing. Various students and thought leaders in these areas continue to refine, test and deploy the descriptive power of enfolded layers of emergent simplexity expressed via open-ended articulations of how they hold the implicit elements of our lives.
Maybe we call it "the stack" now. Maybe we insist that it be organic, rhizomatic and less of a modernist propaganda tool. Maybe we are more careful about where we use it and how we talk about it. Sure. All those things. But I am predicting a pendulum swing in the Emerge field. A real upsurge of confidence, curiosity and good conscience about speaking the language of levels.
You heard it here first.
Of course, this oscillating pendulum will doubtless swing back the other way at some point -- but for now, keep your eyes open for a new mood. Perhaps starting with Terri O'Fallon at the WTF conference in Sedona in November 2022