Ralph Kilmann and the Courageous Mosaic An Interview with Russ Volckmann
Russ: This is the second interview that I’ve had an opportunity to do with Ralph Kilmann. The first was in relation to his book, Quantum Organizations, which at that time, ten years ago or so, represented probably one of the most out there books that I had seen on organization change. Ralph, of course, is best known for his Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument that I worked with when I was an organization development consultant and I think just about every other consultant I knew did as well.
In addition to that, he has been bringing his very strong academic and now many years of consulting with major corporations to us for sometime now, but this new book of his, the reason why I wanted to do a second interview with him, is called The Courageous Mosaic. And this is a book that I defy anyone to read and not come away without being touched in multiple ways. So, Ralph, I want to thank you for agreeing to do this interview and I’m looking forward to our conversation about The Courageous Mosaic.
Ralph: Thank you so much, Russ.
Russ: First off, you address courage in the book, particularly the courage to engage in activities involving learning and self. I think it took huge amounts of courage to put this book out. It is so personal. Do you have any reflections on that?
Ralph: Well, a few reflections come to mind, Russ. First, it became clear to me that if I’m going to invite people to learn more about their inner universe, so they can bring this expanded consciousness into their organizations, I had to illustrate that process with my own journey. I just couldn’t write an intellectual book that addressed all the reasons for participating in all sorts of mind/body/spirit modalities without also sharing how I used these same approaches for healing my own childhood traumas.
Secondly, during the last decade, I have done research on courage and, with a couple of co-authors, I developed an assessment called the Organizational Courage Assessment. We realized that in this day and age, people often have to buck the system, challenge the status quo, and put themselves on the line. In essence, in today’s world, in order to achieve personal and organizational success, people have to perform acts of leadership that could get them into trouble, even if that’s what it takes to address our complex social, organizational, and political messes.
By the way, the simplest definition of courage is doing something noble despite the fear of possibly being harmed by your actions. And there are many kinds of harm. There’s physical harm. There’s moral harm. There’s economic and financial harm. There’s psychological harm. There’s harm to your health and well-being. And there’s even potential harm to your spiritual place in the universe. But courage is saying that we need to take a stand despite the fear of being harmed in some way. Now I’m not talking here about doing things for foolhardy reasons or for impulsive reasons. Instead, acts of courage are usually defined as noble and mindful, but still risky in the face of potential negative consequences.
The topic of courage includes that very fearful journey of examining yourself and your demons. In fact, facing your childhood demons might be one of the scariest things that a person can do. To revisit, relive, and then release stored up traumas from the past is a frightening challenge to most human beings. But such self-examination and subsequent healing are essential if we are to fully bring ourselves into the present and fully bring ourselves into all our organizations. Again, I knew I had to set an example for others if I was going to encourage people to go on this scary roller-coaster ride into the past.
There is a third aspect to why I emphasize courage and, in fact, included that word in the title of my book. David Hawkins’ brilliant work, Power vs. Force, explicitly labels the turning point in consciousness, which transitions from ego force to spirit power, as courage. Basically, when you get to the point in your journey when you are able to radiate the energy and emotion of courage, that’s when you start moving beyond your conditioned ego. With courage, you can then begin living your life from the perspective of a much larger you—one that’s unified with the whole spiritual universe. Without courage, you’re likely to stay stuck in the energies and emotions of shame, grief, guilt, anger, fear, desire, and the like. But with courage, you’ll be able to move forward with reason, neutrality, love, joy, peace, and compassion. And starting with courage, people can then bring those higher energies and emotions into all their social systems, including their families, communities, organizations, and nations.
Russ: Incredible. In that one statement you’ve touched on multiple themes that point to one of the reasons why I want to talk with you. I see your work and the way you’re presenting it as being so aligned with a more meta-systemic, trans-disciplinary, holistic, integral approach, whatever the language you want to use, a perspective that is not just about the self, but also includes systems, and the relationship between self, systems, and cultures, and the like. It’s a phenomena that I get glimpses of from other authors occasionally, but you seem to have really embraced it.
Ralph: One important source of my own integral development was my schizophrenic education—which began as a highly polarized education. I did my undergraduate and masters degree work at Carnegie Mellon University. At that time, the CMU perspective was this: “If you can measure it, it must be important.” Using Ken Wilber’s notion of flatland, almost everything at CMU in those days in the 1960s got reduced into the two external observable quadrants, if you will, where everything could be measured objectively, precisely, and accurately. And if you couldn’t measure it in this flatland manner, well then, it’s really not important and, perhaps, it doesn’t even exist! At Carnegie, when I was confused because this flatland perspective couldn’t address my existential questions, my professors would tell me: “You need to retake advanced calculus. You obviously didn’t learn your calculus.”
After I received by bachelors and masters degrees from CMU in Pittsburgh, I traveled across the country to begin my doctoral studies at UCLA, where the entire focus in its behavioral science program was on personal development. For UCLA in the early 1970s, if you didn’t understand something in your doctoral seminars, you would be told, “You need more therapy. You haven’t learned enough about yourself.” That’s why I refer to my university education as polarized, paradoxical, and schizophrenic: At CMU, I lived in Wilber’s right two quadrants. At UCLA, I lived in Wilber’s left two quadrants. Ever since I graduated from UCLA, I’ve dedicated myself to healing this ineffective schism into a holistic understanding of people and organizations.
Russ: At UCLA, you began the self-examination of your experience principally through T-groups, as you discussed in the book.
Russ: Who was the person who either designed or led that program of T-groups at UCLA? I know the people at Stanford, but I’m not so sure about UCLA.
Ralph: The T-group guru at UCLA was Bob Tannenbaum.
Russ: It was Bob! Wonderful!
Ralph: In fact, some of his students actually seeded Stanford and many other places, such as Case Western. When I attended UCLA in the early 1970s, there were as many as fifteen faculty members in the behavioral science area. It was probably one of the largest, if not the largest, behavioral science faculties in a U.S. business school at the time. And our program was all about T-groups. In fact, when I got my first job offer at the University of Pittsburgh, my UCLA professors told the Dean at Pitt: “Yes, he’s intellectually ready to begin his university career, but he still needs more T-group experience.”
After I accepted the faculty position at Pitt, but several months before I actually arrived on campus, Jerry Zoffer, the dean of Pitt’s business school, sent me all expenses paid to the National Training Laboratories’ two-week T-group program in Bethel, Maine, just so I could further enhance my self-understanding before I officially began my university career.
Russ: How wonderful! I’m going to share with you a short story about Bob. Back about 1982 or so, there was an OD network conference in Portland and Bob was a keynoter. I don’t know if you were there or not, but in any case he was talking about the phenomena—and this relates to what we’re talking about around your book—how people in the profession of organization development were increasingly relying on tools, instruments, things like that.
We had the whole University Associates fiasco where they were taking people’s designs and publishing all kinds of methods, tools, techniques and instruments. Bob’s message, which your book directly addresses, was that the most important tool you have is yourself.
Ralph: Yes. In fact, I vividly remember one time when I went to Bob’s office for a research meeting. I had reams and reams of computer output and I was excitingly sharing with him the many significant statistical correlations that had emerged regarding my projective measure of interpersonal values.
But Bob didn’t pay much attention to the statistics, even though he was most patient as I summarized my results. Afterwards, he said: “Tell me something, Ralph, What does your studying the topic of interpersonal values have to do with the personal struggles you had as a child?”
Russ: You’re kidding.
Ralph: No, I’m not. Everything in that program came down to this bottom-line question: How is your current research interest an expression of your earliest childhood challenges? And by your consciously knowing that ultimate connection between your childhood challenges and your intellectual passions, you can probably do a better job with any research you do, because your wounded child will be in the thick of it and will be fully engaged to heal itself.
Russ: That leads directly to your book, because much of what you are recounting here is that path of development from childhood to the present day. Could you say a little bit about what you see as being the main themes of that journey?
Ralph: Just by being a human being on this planet, as a child you are going to suffer disappointment and dashed expectations, let alone traumas and heartache of one kind or another. That’s just the nature of the human experience. Then you develop these childhood coping styles to get you into adulthood. But years later in life, you may be privileged to discover that those same coping styles that got you through childhood are not effective for being a happy, healthy, adaptive, responsible adult. That’s when you start the self-examination process. And ideally, you turn those childhood traumas into amazing gifts for yourself and others. That’s what the journey’s all about.
You can choose, whether consciously or not, to suffer and constantly complain about what happened to you way back when. Along with this deep suffering, you can choose one form of addiction after another, no matter what form of addiction you prefer, just so you can numb your mind and body to your pain and despair, which will then prevent you from discovering your amazing gifts and how you can give those gifts to the world.
Or you can say, “Let me take a thorough look into my worst traumas, face to face, once and for all, and then grow from what I learn until I can transform these horrible experiences into something beautiful.” In my case, from all my explorations of mind, body, and spirit, I got to the point where I now consider myself absolutely blessed and divinely privileged because I had to endure those early childhood traumas. If I could go back in time and magically take all those traumas away, I wouldn’t do it, because those horrible experiences made me who I am today. And I love and totally accept who I am. That’s why I was given a human life in the first place. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Russ: I just remarried about five years ago and we both are seasoned citizens, if you will. We both led full lives in many regards. And one of the things this has been very real for me in that relationship is that there are a lot of things about my wife’s past I don’t know because I’ve never asked. And she’s never had the need to sit down and tell me her life story. The reality is that the woman I love is the woman I’m with right now, the person she is right now. And no matter what happened in the past, bless it all because it brought her to me. So that’s a similar kind of theme, I think, to what you’re talking about.
Ralph: It’s what you see in some movies about time travel. If you are able to go back in time and change something in your life, you may completely disrupt the timeline and you might even disappear or be an altogether different kind of person, a person whom you may not want to be. If you could change the past, you’d surely upset the future. The best approach, I believe, in terms of happiness, well-being, and caring for others and the entire planet, is to find a way to dearly love every single trauma you’ve ever had. Each trauma, I believe, is mysteriously designed and orchestrated to shape you into the best person you can possibly be—if, and only if, you seize the opportunity of self-exploration, face those demons, and embrace the cause-and-effect connection between your worst traumas and your greatest gifts.
Russ: One of the models that I use to look at the world is more like a lens, or what Ken Wilber calls it a map, is variations on the theme of his AQAL model, All Quadrants, All Levels, et cetera. When I think about this work, what’s so impressive is the manifestation of something that his approach calls for. You’ve just been talking about the internal experience of the individual, of the child and of the adult, as the individual evolves and develops in their lifetimes.
You’ve talked about their internal life and you’ve also talked about individual behaviors that emerged from that. A remarkable thing about your book is that you don’t stop there. You discuss about the family, the organization, and all the cultural and systemic variables that a person relates to in their lives. As I get it, your book tries to put together a way of understanding the interconnectedness of all of those internal and external perspectives. Is that a fair statement?
Ralph: Absolutely. In fact, what’s interesting is since my book was published last year (July 2013), I’ve had the opportunity to make presentations to several different audiences, which has encouraged me to consider the implications of The Courageous Mosaic much beyond what I knew when I first wrote that book. It has become more evident to me that not only do we have an ethical responsibility to continuously examine our inner selves, but there’s also a moral imperative to bring that greater consciousness into all our organizations.
The surrounding systems can easily dominate how we behave, let alone our sense of who we are, especially if we continue living life unconsciously. Some authors have suggested that in terms of what shapes our behavior, it’s 80% the system and 20% the person. And in fact, some of the quality gurus, such as W. Edwards Deming, suggested that the ratio of systems vs. Individual influences regarding what goes on in the world is closer to 85-15. If you’re unconscious, cultural expectations, reward systems, and the habits, customs, and processes that surround you will unduly shape your behavior and determine your sense of self. Especially if you are unconscious, you’ll find yourself quite helpless and hopeless within that web of surrounding systems.
But if you expand your self-awareness and mind/body/spirit consciousness, you have the opportunity to change your systems so they encourage your personal growth and development. In fact, there is one quote that I think beautifully sums up the impact of systems on our behavior, including who is ultimately responsible for the design and revitalization of our surrounding systems. Several years ago, I arrived in London a few days before I’d be conducting a part of a weekend workshop on how to integrate your self and your systems. While I was adjusting to the change in time zones, I decided to explore the British Museum. There, etched on one of the walls on the first floor, is a quote by the poet William Blake. The writing on the museum wall proclaimed the essential challenge for humanity: “I must create my own system or be enslaved by another man’s.” Blake probably wrote that somewhere around 1800. It forewarns that if you think of yourself as separate from your systems and you assume that those systems are someone else’s responsibility, you’ll be at the mercy of all the systems created by others, whether those systems were created just last year or thousands of years ago.
Can you image if everyone is implicitly saying that someone else is responsible for the system and that we have, by an overly narrow self-identity, implicitly chosen to enslave ourselves forevermore? What if nobody is taking care of the system? An alternative approach, of course, is to say, “I am those systems. I therefore have full responsibility to not only care for myself, but also to nurture, redesign, and transform my surrounding systems.” That perspective—consciously declaring that my systems are integral with who I am and what I must do—is perhaps the most profound declaration of ethical selfhood that you’re ever going to hear!
Russ: Well, I think so. Let me see how I put this together. I see there is a unity of the internal and behavioral aspects of the individual. Culture and the systems are a part of that. Actually, there are probably multiple unities because, in fact, there are multiple systems, multiple cultures, and many sub-cultures. It’s really pretty messy when you try and get your arms around all of that.
But in my mind, I often think about the individual and the system and the culture as conceptually separate. Now, I don’t mean that they’re not intertwined and not mutually influenced and all that sort of thing. Nevertheless, there are different conceptual frameworks for thinking about the elements of the whole. And in Integral Theory, one of the challenges is how do we talk about the relationships among all of those things.
So, for example, people want to be looking at what is the developmental path of the individual in terms of ego development or in terms of worldview or whatever the model is that you’re using, and looking at cultures through similar lenses. So there’s all these different ways of thinking about these things. But the relationship question is one that I don’t think people have resolved. We’re still trying to articulate it. So, maybe you can help us here.
The two positions seem to be that there’s an influence dynamic among those variables, the internal, external individual and the culture and the systems. As something happens in one, it influences the other. There’s a developmental or an anomic process that occurs depending on the nature of the interaction.
Wilber talks about co-evolution, if you will, the co-development of these things. They happen together almost by magic, at least that’s the impression I get from the way he talks about it. Is that even a useful distinction to make? Or is the first one really the one that is the best tool for us to begin thinking about how we engage in self as well as systemic development?
Ralph: Here is my philosophy about this thorny dilemma. It’s just my philosophy, so people can take it or leave it. All concepts, perspectives, theories, and their interrelationships are just figments of the mind. We try to make sense out of things by categorizing them and by suggesting what impact one category has on another. That is the basis of language, because a word already sets the stage for a category and its relationship to other words. So we have all these words and connections in our language. Yet if we don’t have a category for something, for all practical purposes, it doesn’t exist.
I like to determine which categories are more useful than others. Is Wilber’s four-quadrant model a more useful way of categorizing things than some other model, because using the four quadrants and their interrelationships leads to a more comprehensive understanding of life, which then ultimately leads to more effective action? That’s the key question for me: What does one set of categories do for us—more effectively, more efficiently, more ethically, and more compassionately—than some other set of categories?
But never forget that any proposed set of categories is just a way of reducing complexity into compartments for our human convenience. It’s all reductionism at the core. Even if it’s a meta-category, or a set of integral relationships, it’s still reductionism.
Russ: It has to be by nature of what we’re about in the world, in the universe.
Ralph: Yes. So I don’t take any set of categories or any conceptual model too seriously. I simply say that each model is our human mind at work. Any set of categories is just a figment of our imagination. But is the model useful? Does it lead to effective, ethical action? I use those kinds of criteria to assess the value of any model created by the human mind.
Ironically, if I had to choose a set of categories that helps me understand my world in comprehensive manner more than any other model, it would have to be the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument along with the TKI Conflict Model. Ken Thomas and I developed this assessment tool when I was only 24 years old, a first-year doctoral student at UCLA, while he was a newly appointed assistant professor. I can’t say we really knew what we were creating at that time. Most people don’t know what they’re doing at that young age.
But the TKI just took off and has had a powerful and pervasive impact on the field of conflict management and change management. During the past few years, I’ve been making more and more use of the TKI Conflict Model, not only in The Courageous Mosaic, but it’s influence has also spread throughout my series of online courses on quantum transformation. The TKI model is totally consistent with the work of Kant and Hegel, looking at the dialectic, thesis, antithesis, synthesis, etc., as a way of charting human evolution across individuals and societies.
So often, a conflict or challenge is first cast in either/or terms. If fact, it doesn’t matter what the categories are: People are prone to polarize issues, whether about themselves or their systems. And then, at some tipping point, there is a magical switch: It’s not just either/or…it’s both. I am both an ego and a soul. I am both a self and a system. I am both an energy body and a physical body. I am both a leader and a follower. I can both be happy and successful at the same time. And so forth. Eventually, you learn that you can transcend and include those either/or polarities by unifying them in a large space of being, with a broader and broader perspective, as you progress through higher stages of mind/body/spirit consciousness. And, of course, when you unify the either/or polarities into a larger piece of the universal puzzle, you have created a synthesis, a collaborative solution, which then creates the new thesis, which attracts the next antithesis, which then propels an ongoing spiral of human development from one new synthesis to another, until the end of time.
For me, it doesn’t matter what the category is. The meta-framework for me is becoming more and more aware that each category pits itself against another category, in whole or in part. And that’s how progress is made. But never forget that any category, including the TK Conflict Model, is just a human-made language, a social construction, for grappling with the whole of reality.
Russ: So these models, maps, quadrants, and so forth, they’re lenses through which we can look at whatever phenomena we choose. But we can’t allow ourselves to get caught in the trap of believing that the lenses are our reality rather than what we’re doing with what we gather through those lenses.
Ralph: But in sharp contrast to the mind’s way of categorizing everything into pieces, what we experience through the wisdom of our body, called somatic awareness, is holistic, well before the mind takes this wisdom and categories it into concepts and theories. Perhaps it’s always a good idea to remember that famous insight: Never confuse the map with the territory. I think of the map as the mind, while I think of the body, and the whole universe, as the territory.
Russ: Right. Ken Wilber often points that out.
You’ve alluded to your own development in the process. I think of myself as a product of Berkeley of the 1960s. I left in early ’68 and came back in mid ’69 when a lot of negative traumatic stuff had happened. I was in India with some time in the Middle East and Europe during the time I was gone. I came back and was working on my dissertation and got involved in encounter groups at Stiles Hall at the University of California. That led into my involvement in the human potential movement, in gestalt and body therapies and all that. I went to Sonoma State University and did the Humanistic Psychology Program and their Masters in Humanistic Psychology. I then started doing consulting, training and more academic teaching.
You had a very different path. You had a path that isn’t available to a lot of people. You allude to this in the book. You development involved so much talk therapy, which was not featured a lot in the developmental path that I was on. I read about it, of course, but didn’t engage in it very much. It was very expensive to do that.
Ralph: My first exposure to self-examination, other than taking courses in personality and abnormal psychology, was the T-group experiences I had at UCLA in the early 1970s. I began my first talk therapy in 1975. And based on what I’d been exposed to in the Western culture, that was the only modality I knew about and pursued at the time.
But then in the early 1990s, I read Stan Grof’s The Holotropic Mind. That book blew my mind wide open. I said, “This can’t be so. You can’t possibly travel back in time and experience people and events even before you were born. You can’t go flying through the universe at the speed of light. That’s fantasy.” And then I learned that Stan Grof was giving a one-week workshop near Boston. This was back in 1997. I said, “Okay, I’ve got to find out about this. The worst thing that can happen is that I waste a week of my life. The best that can happen is that I may discover something new.” Of course, I’ve never wasted a minute or a day in my life, because it’s all a part of the journey. So I went to that workshop on Holotropic Breathwork and, in fact, found out that Grof’s modality is very, very effective. I directly experienced the holographic universe that’s accessible from our body in a non-ordinary state of consciousness. And there’s a very effective process for tapping into that wisdom that doesn’t involve psychoactive drugs. The process involves relaxing your body, breathing deeper and faster than normal, listening to tribal music, and being open to explore wherever your body’s wisdom takes you.
Once I had those Holotropic experiences, which are described in detail in my book, there was no going back. Based on Grof’s workshop, I realized that there’s much more to self-examination than talk therapy. There’s holistic wisdom in the body. You can go back to your birth experience when you were only an unborn fetus. You can go back to transpersonal experiences and connect with ancestors, animals, mythical creatures, and material objects. You can go forward to events that haven’t yet happened. Holotropic Breathwork is far beyond the Freudian model of talk therapy. It’s closer to Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious.
That weeklong Grof workshop opened the door for me. A few years later, after I had already written the intellectual Chapters 1 through 6 in Quantum Organizations, I decided that the book needed an emotional hook. I needed to connect to the reader’s own struggles with consciousness. So that was when I wrote Chapter 0, which was the last chapter I wrote in Quantum Organizations. Chapter 0 is called “The Ultimate Encounter.” It’s a dream within a dream about a person who wakes up on his deathbed and begins regretting a lifetime of living an unconscious life and remembering how he suffered through several decades of senseless jobs in bureaucratic organizations.
Ultimately, he wakes up from this dream and realizes that it’s his 30th birthday, so he’s got many more years to live an examined, mindful, and meaningful life. During the next years, that story of the ultimate encounter on one’s deathbed became the springboard for examining myself through all kinds of mind/body/spirit modalities. When I moved from the University of Pittsburgh to California in 2001, every month I attended at least one consciousness retreat and also participated in a variety of energy healing and bodywork sessions. California is like a candy store for consciousness retreats and nontraditional healing practices. I used to say to myself: “If my former colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh could see me now, they’d either have me arrested or committed.”
I experienced modalities like crystal healing, third-eye meditation, Vipassana meditation, matrix energetics, somatic experiencing, cortical field re-education, Network Spinal Analysis, Somatic Respiratory Integration, and structural re-alignment. Most of these modalities are described and illustrated in my book, in very personal terms. I never wasted my time. It became a joy for me to see a different slice of myself while, at the same time, becoming more and more whole. Basically, I made a commitment to take self-aware consciousness seriously. This was the underlying theme in Quantum Organizations. I couldn’t just intellectualize or think about it. I had to experience it. I had to be it.
Russ: As you’re aware, Howard Gardner, talks about multiple lines of intelligence and in Integral Theory, there are multiple lines that we live in and develop— intellectual or cognitive, emotional, physical, spiritual and so on. The way you’ve described your path is very much in harmony with what in the integral world is called Integral Life Practice, which means that you’re addressing all the relevant lines in your development. It seems that’s the strategy that evolved for you. You decided to reach out and touch the world and open your arms to all kinds of different experiences along multiple lines of your development. Is that fair?
Ralph: Yes, although my progression in participating in one modality after another was never planned in advance. Each modality, in turn, simply appeared: A friend here, a friend there, would say, “Oh, I just discovered this cool approach to healing. You might like it.” And I said, “Sure, I’ll try it.” A few years later, when I began writing The Courageous Mosaic, I could then connect the dots and see the particular sequence of mind/body/spirit modalities that perfectly suited by integral growth and development.
One modality always overlaps and feeds upon another. We later categorize the modalities into a sequence, as in A, B, C, D, but it’s all just a set of categories. I don’t take it too seriously. And I find that as you proceed on your journey to wholeness, you can enter any modality with any perspective and from any stage of consciousness. If you surrender to your experience, you’ll eventually touch all possible categories and lines of development, whether you do it consciously or not. When your mind surrenders to the holographic wisdom in your body, you are the territory, and that everything you need appears just when you need it.
Russ: How would you say this journey you’ve been on has affected what you do with client systems?
Ralph: Perhaps you should ask those client systems, rather than me!
I would say that my journey has certainly changed my sense of who I am and my connection with the world. I probably radiate a very different kind of energy now, much more peaceful, joyful, loving, and compassionate, than when I was still trying to make sense of my traumas and first make my way in the world. Over the decades, I evolved to a very different inner universe where I radiate energy and emotions in a way that, I think, touches clients, students, and strangers much more than any words I say or write.
It’s that energy of love, joy, peace, and compassion that I bring into conversations, into organizations, and into my online courses. That radiating energy is what touches the people I meet.
In The Courageous Mosaic, but even more in the work I’ve done after that, I recognize that it’s all about getting your energies and emotions to a higher stage of consciousness, because what you radiate then positively affects everyone around you—any conflict, any issue, any dialectic then changes what it looks like for you and others. That’s been the key ingredient. It’s how I engage with life. And all good things happen when you engage with life in a way in which you love yourself, you love people, you inspire others, you radiate compassion. These are not intellectual qualities. These are subtle energies that affect people more than anything else we say or do.
Russ: Would you give us an example?
Ralph: Think of an emotional crisis, a bitter divorce or a child dies, when people can be so engrossed in pain and suffering that they don’t see how they can ever move forward in their lives. One approach is to talk to them about their situation and give them some words of support and encouragement. But when you are experientially open with your heart and you’re able to radiate energies that convey love and compassion, you can inspire people to see a brighter future in a way that mere words can’t possibly express. Radiating different kinds of emotions and energies is not an easy category to talk about, because such energy is holistic and, as a result, can’t be conceptualized in the mind. You can teach a therapist or coach what to say to other people when they are down and out. You can even write out a script. But it’s virtually impossible to teach a therapist or coach how to radiate the spirit-based energies and emotions if they haven’t already evolved to a higher stage of consciousness.
Later, the people who’ve been previously overwhelmed with pain and grief will often say: “That made such a difference in my life, the way you were present with me. I felt differently about the situation. I felt there was a reason for my tragedy that I couldn’t grasp before. You inspired me to do something new with my life. I found an inner strength in myself that I didn’t feel before.”
Incidentally, my standard of success for my book—and there’s still ego here, but less and less—is that I would like at least one person who doesn’t know me at all—not a friend, not a relative—to contact me and share a life experience that tells me that my book has encouraged them to face their life with an open heart, so they can move forward with their gifts and positively affect the people around them. I just need one person. Just one. If there are ten, if there are a thousand, that’s simply icing on the cake. But I just want one.
Russ: Have you gotten that one?
Ralph: Yes, I’ve had a few people call me in tears, “My god, I’d been so afraid of facing my early traumas with my caretaker. But now, after reading your book, I’m going to see if that person is still around, so I can finally have the confrontation I’ve been dreaming about.” Or her parents are still alive and she wants to have it out with them. In fact, one person called and told me that his father was having a birthday—his 85th or 90th birthday, or something like that—and he had never shared things with his dad that had really hurt him, almost destroyed him, when he was very young and under his father’s care.
He said, “You know, I’m going to confront him. I read your book and I’ve been putting this aside year after year. But I don’t have forever. When he dies, I’ll lose my chance to confront him and heal my wounds. I can do talk therapy and pretend I’m having a conversation with him, but I can now see that nothing beats a live meeting.” He then scheduled a five-hour confrontation with his dad. This was arranged just before the big birthday celebration. And, boy, they had it out. He described it to me in detail.
At the end of their intense five-hour confrontation, the father said, “This is the best birthday gift you could have ever given me.” They both found peace. And because it was a live confrontation, they both were able to learn something from one another that they didn’t know before. They learned a lot. If you go to talk therapy after the person is deceased or you’re no longer talking to the person, you can imagine what might be said, you can come to some resolution with the situation, but you can’t learn as much because the other person is not around to provide his perspective and experience.
And so I’ve had a number of people call me who said my book has inspired them to confront some of their past demons in a live forum, which then allows them to live a happier and more productive life. Everyone they encounter after they’ve healed their wounds—their children, their loved ones, their neighbors, their colleagues—will also be affected by the higher consciousness that emerges after such a primal resolution.
Russ: You’ve touched on something that you allude to in the book, 12-step programs. I’m wondering if 12-step programs had been influential in your development or it’s just something that you look at from a far.
Ralph: I wrote about it very briefly because other people had mentioned the program to me. I’ve never experienced it myself. But clearly, it’s been around since, I believe, the 1930s and has grown in usage. It started with alcoholism, but has expanded to anything that’s an addiction — gambling, eating disorders, and so forth. And it has a spiritual base with which I particularly identify. The only possible problem that some people have cited with the 12-step program is that you have the potential of replacing one addiction with another. People become addicted to their AA meetings, instead of getting to the source of their pain, the pain that led them to their addiction in the first place. Although, as I understand it, AA does talk about going back to people you’ve harmed and trying to make amends, and speaking to them in a live meeting, as long as everyone feels safe from such a meeting.
During such a compassionate meeting, both people can discover what pain and suffering have been stuck and stored in their bodies that no amount of talk therapy or meditation is going to remove. But I think about the full range of mind/body/spirit modalities. We have to cut across all of those aspects of self-aware consciousness. We also have to cut across the systems in society. We have to do the integral work. And I don’t know if AA is doing that, but I know that AA is certainly popular. It’s a good model. It’s very effective for certain things. Perhaps we can expand it into a more integral model that makes use of a wider range of mind/body/spirit modalities.
Russ: In the epilogue of your book, you offer eight, as I recall, action steps that people can take. The things that you have been talking about, the themes from what you’ve said so far, show up in these eight action steps. Maybe this is a reflection on aspects of my own life, but I have this image that some people sometimes can do exactly what you’re talking about. They’re investing themselves and their resources in an authentic way to bring about a developmental process. Others of us may invest and run up against all those barriers that we have that had been building up since childhood or since before childhood, for all I know.
We get something out of it in terms of our development, but it always feels like there’s so much I haven’t done yet. There’s this bottomless pit of opportunity. Some of us don’t have the resources to do what you did. Most of us don’t, actually. But we’ve got these guidelines that you offer us and we can find many different paths to do these things. Are there strategies that you would recommend that you think people should make sure are included in whatever path they follow?
Ralph: Yes. Let me respond in two ways, Russ. One aspect may not have been captured in those eight principles, because I’ve tried to put them in a handy form where people can move forward on their own. A somewhat radical, but most important part of my book is the recognition that unless we build mind/body/spirit modalities into our organizations and institutions, those people who are privileged to have the financial resources and the available time to expand their consciousness will be the only ones who’ll benefit from all those mind/body/spirit modalities.
What I suggest in Chapter 20 in my book, which is titled, “Society, Systems and Souls,” is that we have to rethink the design and purpose of all our formal organizations, which include our public schools. I suggest how to radically transform this system so children, at an early age, are invited to examine their mind/body/spirit consciousness. This should be part of the curriculum of every school system. What good is it to learn math and science if we don’t know who we are and we can’t make a mindful decision other than mimicking what an outdated society habitually expects us to do?
Our current public schools tend to develop good soldiers, good citizens, and docile workers. That’s what they were designed to do. This unstated mission is a carryover from the Prussian and French Empire’s lockstep, regimented, compulsory education. In my book, I suggest a compromise: that at least 25% of the public school curriculum ought to be devoted to the development of mind/body/spirit consciousness in a fun and meaningful way. It is natural, human, to learn about yourself in a way that lower animals can’t. I think this desire is imprinted in our makeup and has always been the driver of human evolution and progress. But in the lower stages of consciousness, there is a desire to control people and the ones in power want to hold on to their position and resources. But people got to be free. And part of that inherent desire for freedom is to gain self-aware consciousness in all the ways I have been talking about here. We now have to put our systems, including public schools, behind that quest or there will be more discontent and ultimately a new revolution and a new order.
I suggest that children be actively encouraged to learn about themselves, which I believe is a healthier and more productive activity than forcing them to learn all varieties of math and science. Even youngsters can be invited to explore their experiences and feelings. We can make it fun. We can make it playful. But we need to make this a part of our formal organizations. The same principle applies to our businesses. What does it mean when we hear, “Employees are our most valuable assets”? How are we developing employees to their full potential? Do we only enhance their cognitive skills, their technical skills, their social skills, and their computer skills? What about bringing their whole selves into the organization, their mind, body and spirit?
Beginning with Quantum Organizations, I believe that the heart, the lifeblood, of every organization is the self-aware consciousness of its members. That’s what we have to nurture and embrace. That is the core competency of every organization. Everything that takes place in an organization stems from self-aware consciousness. If this quality can be embedded into our surrounding systems, then it won’t be just the privileged few who can afford going to talk therapy, doing energy healing, and attending spiritual retreats. Expanding all aspects of consciousness must be brought into the institutional fabric of our society. Time is running out. Our mega-problems and societal conflicts are doing us in. Only a higher level of consciousness will heal the wounds among races, religions, nations, and between humans and Mother Earth.
Russ: Can I ask about that before you go into the second one? You compare and contrast pyramid and circle type organizations and people can read your book if they don’t know what I mean by that. But development processes in organizations are often the first things that are cut in the face of financial challenges. Are you suggesting programmatic efforts that go beyond changes in structures and problem solving processes, for example?
Ralph: Any organization that is serious about creativity, innovation, and employee engagement, or simply making the most of its human resources, will ultimately realize that it’s only through bringing the whole person into the organization—mind, body and spirit—will bring that creative force to life. I think we’re still using a very small percentage of the full capabilities of human beings in the workplace. In most cases, employees have to suppress themselves in the workplace and then save their creative energies for their hobbies and other outside interests. What is the value of paying employees so much money and then getting so little in return, because the systems can’t take advantage of their employees’ immense potential?
Especially for the large, old, traditional organizations, people are minimally engaged in the workplace. But finding ways to make full use of their mind, body and spirit consciousness, Including their soul’s purpose and passions, will generate the kind of energy, creativity, and innovation that organizations claim they need in order to succeed in our global economy. Organizations have to see that what they need can be achieved with a dedication to expanding mind/body/spirit consciousness in the workplace. Otherwise, the leaders of those traditional organizations are living in the past and they, much like the Roman Empire with Barbarians at the gate, will eventually implode. And we’ve seen this steady downfall in the last few decades when some of the largest, previously successful corporations in the U.S. continued to bury their heads in the sand, ignored the fundamental principles of human consciousness, and then wound up broken and bankrupt.
Russ: What was the second point you were going to make?
Ralph: The second theme that I didn’t explicitly mention in the epilogue of eight action steps is the huge blessing of writing an autobiography. I would highly recommend that people begin writing their autobiography much early in life. Start in public schools. Instead of asking students to write about their last summer vacation, have them recall the earliest events and challenges in their life and put these significant memories down on paper, using words and symbols. This consciousness-raising project can start in grade school and continue into high school. As long as students can write, they might as well explore their lives in the deepest way possible. This continued autobiographical project might also motivate them to improve their writing and artistic skills, while they also expand their self-understanding, self-acceptance, self-love, and self-esteem. What a win-win proposition!
At an early age, writing your autobiography about the traumas and challenges in your childhood might be more therapeutic than almost anything else. In fact, when I had just completed The Courageous Mosaic, several friends asked me, “How did you remember all those events and conversations? How could you have recalled all those details that took place so many years ago?
I began by writing a rough draft of whatever I could remember about my several childhood surgeries, or whatever the topic of a particular chapter happened to be. Then I began rewriting the chapter, again and again and again, which helped me remember many more relevant details and conversations. After the 10th or 15th revision, I experienced something like time travel, where I literally, it seemed, went back in time and could relive those events and conversations. As a result, I found it easy to remember things that I never before realized had ever taken place. But those buried experiences, all of them, remain in the body, in my holographic body. The whole universe is in the body. It’s only a retrieval problem, much like my experiences with Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork. In a nutshell, by writing and rewriting my childhood and early adult history, I could go back in time, relive events, and heal from that process.
Finally, each chapter got to the point where it would bring me to tears, because reading my carefully expressed words would perfectly resonate with the events that were still alive in my holographic body. Then I went on to the next chapter. But just think how much easier this whole process would be if it had started in grade school, when the memories would be more readily accessible with fewer revisions! Why not make therapeutic autobiographies a formal part of public school education? Then, when young adults are ready to enter the workforce, they would already have a much better grasp of who they are, their purpose in life, their passions, and would likely radiate the higher energies and emotions of human consciousness.
Russ: There are several points in the book where tears did come to my eyes and one of them was the scene with you at your mother’s bedside as she was in a coma. What I’m going to guess at—this is a hypothesis coming out of reading your book—is that every point at which there were tears, those were points where I need to go back and pay attention to how I handled that in my life.
Ralph: Yes. The book has brought out a lot of powerful emotions in other people, including the needed inspiration for them to finally face what has not yet been healed. I want to emphasize something, Russ: If some past event or violation has not been healed from the past, your energy and focus can’t be fully available in the present. Why? Unresolved relationships with past perpetrators—whether it’s parents, caretakers, strangers, relatives, or ex-spouses—will continue to drain your passion and divert your purpose.
When people finally face those demons and resolve them, they usually experience a huge surge of energy. They feel years younger. They are free to focus on the present and the future, because they’ve resolved the past. Otherwise, their body, energy, and mind are royally stuck. Unresolved people are also more prone to disease and illness. Because unresolved relationships wear down our immune system, we get sick from the ongoing stress and repression of past wounds.
As I wrote in my book, any disease is really a message from your soul to your ego, saying, “You’re not doing what were born to do. You’re being diverted and you’re wasting your precious life. And if you don’t get back on track, I’m going to give you an even stronger message with a more serious disease. Ultimately, if you’re so adamant to ignore who you are and what you’re here to do, despite my repeated attempts to reach you, you leave me no choice but to dismantle your molecules with a terminal disease process and then give them to somebody else who’ll then be given the opportunity to live a more purposeful life.”
Russ: So what’s next for Ralph Kilmann?
Ralph: What I thoroughly enjoy now, which has become a second career for me, is that I developed an online learning business with my son. I’ve taken a lot of my work and, with the latest e-learning technologies, I’ve developed a series of recorded online courses that people can take anytime, anywhere, and at their own pace. I’ve already developed several courses for conflict management and change management, based on Quantum Organizations. My newest online course that will be debuting in about a month or so is based on The Courageous Mosaic. I’m calling the new course: “Expanding Consciousness in People and Organizations.”
What I’ve done—and this was quite challenging—is take a lot of what we talked about here, while making considerable use of the TKI Conflict Model, so people can resolve what I call the four foundational conflicts on their journey to wholeness.
Bob Tannenbaum is no longer alive, but I can picture him chuckling at the idea of taking the personal topic of self-aware consciousness and putting it into an online course.
Ralph: That e-learning technology was not available in his time. But that’s how the new generation loves to learn. They want to use smart phones, Internet tablets, and laptop computers for learning. But basically, taking the next step, as I mentioned, is taking the necessary steps to resolve the four foundational conflicts that tend to block a person from living a fully conscious life.
Russ: I’m not going to go down the path of the model. I really hope that people will do that after reading this and becoming aware of your work for the first time, perhaps. When you reflect on the work we’ve talked about, this book and the things that you’ve learned from it and where you’re moving forward from here, is there anything I haven’t asked you about that you wish I had?
Ralph: I have often been asked: “How do you view people who choose not to look at themselves or seem totally unconcerned about discovering their ultimate purpose in life?” I have been asked this question many times. Basically, as you move through the stages of consciousness, you learn not to judge people and their particular journey. Everyone has a different journey, whether it’s this lifetime or the next lifetime. Every day of our lives we are making a decision either to live unconsciously or to examine the precious gift of life that we’ve been given. I simply invite people to choose wisely.
But one good reason to choose a conscious life is because if you do, you won’t be on your deathbed, as I put it Quantum Organizations, where you’re having painful regrets saying, “Why did I waste my time? Why didn’t I look at myself? Why did I keep living unconsciously even though I wasn’t happy?” I think one measure of personal success is to ultimately be on your deathbed and feel completely at peace and wishing the same for others. That’s all. But, as I’ve said before, everyone is on his or her own journey and must make this life-altering choice and then live the consequences as a responsible adult.
Russ: Thank you for sharing your experience and your gifts, I’m quite certain that not only this way but all the other ways you’re manifesting in the world you’re going to be touching the hearts and souls of many, many others. So thank you so much.
Ralph: Thank you, Russ. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to have this discussion.