Feature Article: A Society on the Verge of Leaping

Feature Articles / January 2008

Margot BosmanLast February—while a new Dutch government was in the making—probably one of the first attempts for integral policy making in the 21st century started to see the light of day. Under the guidance of Herman Wijffels, who is Executive Director at the World Bank and was appointed to this assignment by the Dutch Queen, three political parties designed a so-called Regeerakkoord . This agreement is a significant step in the exploration of how an integral society might emerge. This article seeks to shed light on the very first glimpses of integral thinking in the context of governing.

First and foremost looking at the context out of and in which the Regeerakkoord emerged is significant in order to get an idea of this integral operation on a larger scale. The Dutch pluralistic political system forces political parties to work together. Unlike the US our political arena consists of many different parties and none of them is able to gain a real majority of votes. The reasons for that can be found in our social and cultural history, and although interesting it would be too much to get into here. For now it is important to understand how this system in this day and age also reflects our current pluralistic society, which is based on what in SDi- terms is called the green value system. This system came to its full potential during the sixties and seventies and has been of great influence on Dutch society ever since.

If we want to be able to see why the Regeerakkoord might be a first attempt to bring about integrally informed governing, we need to look at history in fairly recent times. During the nineties the Dutch government was formed by three political parties; all were determined to bring about regulations that resembled the pluralistic values, which already implicitly existed in society. It was during this time that, for example, regulation in order to formalize euthanasia came into being, when gay marriage became possible, when prostitution was legalized.

The government that came next was a conservative one. And it was also during this time that Dutch society for the first time had to face phenomena like fundamentalism (moviemaker and anti-religious modernist Theo van Gogh was killed by a Muslim extremist). This gave the conservative government all the more reason to find that our green pluralistic values, which lack a higher morality, were of great risk to our society. The government in turn started to explicitly emphasize what was perceived as traditional values. The prime minister, for example, initiated a national debate on the subject of values like respecting and caring for one another. And also discussions emerged about whether freedom of speech should be restricted. These were symptoms of the angst felt by many at the time. On the other hand, people also experienced this as though politicians wanted to take society back to the fifties. At one point this did evoke quite some resistance. These attempts to gain some kind of control again nevertheless seemed to have their function, especially looking at it from an integral, evolutionary standpoint. Trying to find solutions in old ways of thinking and doing helps us to realize that these won’t work anymore. We need to go forward instead of backward. And so it was at this point in time that a new government had to be formed.

The new coalition, which took on the assignment of governing a country in which confusion, insecurity and restlessness was coming more and more to the surface, was formed based on the outcomes of the elections. It took the form of a rare combination of political and religious identities: social-democratic, Christian-liberal and orthodox Christian. Three party leaders had to come together to investigate whether it would be possible to find mutual ground from which they would be able to find the trust and work together for the next four years. It took them five weeks of negotiating, an intensive process guided by Herman Wijffels. A lot can be said about the process of the negotiations in relation to the results. In order to keep this article within a reasonable length we’ll leave that for now though and get into the results.

It first is relevant to think about whether the potential for those to emerge, can (partially) be found in the combination of these three parties and the time and place in which they were combined. In order to find an answer to that it seems to be significant to highlight a few societal characteristics (in terms of Spiral Dynamics integral‑SDi—called ‘life conditions’). This will be done in rather radical terms just to get a point across. It is crucial though to be very clear by emphasizing that reality is of course much more nuanced than described here.

What are the life conditions out of which this government emerged? The Dutch green pluralistic society gradually turned into a flatland in which—to put it bluntly—personal freedom became our highest value. It led to a society where ‘live and let live’ is the ground rule. We’re not supposed to judge anyone, although of course we secretly do, and we do not want to be judged. Our famous social security system, a symbol of care, gradually turned into an escape goat. As long as there is a government that takes care of people we are not responsible for caring for each other. Furthermore a pluralistic, secular society doesn’t leave much room for religious values (religion is mostly experienced as our ‘personal spirituality’). Loving your neighbour like you love yourself is outmoded. In a society like that—remember this is somewhat exaggerated—‘common ground’ is harder and harder to find. So by the time a moviemaker gets killed in bright daylight by a Muslim extremist, who was born, raised and educated in this country, people start to feel that something is very wrong.

So here we are in the midst of flatland, where people are looking for security and safety and for answers to very difficult problems. What is a new government to do? It feels it needs to provide safety and security for all, but it has to do so in a manner that has nothing to do with recapturing values we left behind in the fifties. And taking all this into account it seems that an integrally informed Regeerakkoord needed to see the daylight. Right at this time something new had to emerge in order to be of real value in what might be the first and small steps on the pathway to a new society.

The Regeerakkoord was presented on February 7th and is titled: “Working together, Living together”, a title that reflects values that are held by several value systems that can be found in society as a whole and which are also held by these three political parties. Living together is for example valued by green, blue and purple. Working together is for example valued by green, orange and blue. Looking into what happened it becomes clearer that the three political parties probably were able to find common ground in that. And they found a shared commitment in the fact that they all find it important to create a country in which each and every one feels safe and secure. They also want to form the government, which provides that, and yet they differ when it comes to how to reach the goals. And it seems to be this interplay between the common goals and the differences in their approaches, and the fact that they were guided in being able to hold the space to work with this, that are underlying the Regeerakkoord. The common goals are the glue in their agreement and the varieties in approaches are the means by which they might be able to address the needs of people in society whose center of gravity lies within various value systems.

So how does this take form in the Regeerakkoord? For the sake of clarity and the reasonable length of this article, we will not examine the agreement in detail but look into the larger picture. One of the remarkable outcomes of the Regeerakkoord is that the governing parties seem to be willing and are able to hold the paradoxes, the complexity in thinking, that is needed right now to address the problems we’re facing. Problems that ‘first tier thinking’ cannot solve. The governing parties are stating in the opening lines: “We want to work together on growth, sustainability, respect and solidarity. Create a society in which we value one another and which honours the possibilities and qualities of all”.

Now in order to be able to have this overall picture (healthy) green has to be in the picture and there needs to be room for orange, blue, red, purple meaning making as well i.e. growth, sustainability, respect and solidarity are perceived differently in each system. But social-liberal and (orthodox) Christian goals can be brought together in this assignment. Now a very crucial part of this statement is the fact that according to the government a society needs to emerge in which “possibilities and qualities of all are honoured”.

Looking at the Regeerakkoord in general it seems that this is where ‘flatland’ comes to an end and integral thinking starts to emerge. Within our flatland society we all are convinced that each and everyone of us is the same (at some point we started to confuse having equal rights for being equal), meaning that we all are able to grow as much as we want as long as we are been given or create the possibility. It is this kind of thinking that resulted in governments either making all kinds of detailed regulations in order to help people or not imposing on people at all, because we all are capable of taking care of ourselves.

With the Regeerakkoord governing parties are now making explicit and acknowledge that we have to be willing to discern. In practical terms this is leading to a kind of governing that differs in its approach towards the various groups i.e. value systems in our society today. It is for example revolutionary that the government actively approaches parents who seem to have problems with raising their children and forces parental guidance on them. Looking at the implications it becomes understandable why one of the party leaders, right after the Regeerakkoord was presented, rather emotionally stated in the media: “It is quite something for a socialist to acknowledge that all people are not the same”.

Furthermore what is underlying the outcome of an integrally informed Regeerakkoord is the fact that it entails six main themes – (the Netherlands and its role within Europe (1); innovative, competitive and entrepreneurial economy (2); sustainable environment (3); social coherence (4); safety, stability and respect (5); governmental and public services (6)), and what is pivotal is that social, economic and environmental implications are taken into account as much as possible. As the parties write in the Regeerakkoord: “Respecting human life, animals and nature is a leading principle. A new balance between ecology and economy is necessary. Economical dynamics and ecological development need to be connected to one another…Huge opportunities are to be found in new economical activities and in reinforcing our competitive potential”.

In order to help this long term trajectory unfold specific goals are formulated for example in relationship to sustainability like turning The Netherlands into one of the most sustainable and efficient producers/users of energy in Europe by cutting down on energy use (2% each year); increasing the use of alternative energy sources (20% by 2020); CO2-reduction of 30% by 2020 (compared to the percentage of 1990). Goals like these are accompanied by creating space for the invention of innovative economical activities by (financially) supporting initiatives which relate to specific pressing problems in various societal domains like: care sector; (sustainable) energy and water management. While focusing on economical activities it is important, so the Regeerakkoord states, to also maintain financial support for scientific research which focuses on these areas too. In that way one sector can fertilize the other and vice versa.

In order to be able to know how to accomplish these various goals and also shed light on what is needed where and when, an all quadrants approach in various domains of society is necessary. Questions arise like: what is needed to provide well being and growth on an individual scale? What is needed to do so within the collective i.e. culture as a whole? And how does that hang together with the current systems or what needs to be put in place?

Another practical example of how these questions are examined and experimented with in order to start putting goals into practice is health care policy. Our current health care sector operates from a mechanistic world view, looking at the body as a machine that needs repairing every once in a while. The focus is on curing sickness in stead of preventing it through helping people live a healthy life and offering the best possible cure when necessary. This would benefit patients, be more economical and will thus benefit society as a whole or to put in another way: it will create sustainability on an individual and collective scale. In order to make this change the system itself has to become healthier. The people who work there need to be enabled for example through education. But the government also needs to look at the system itself. It is now – in cooperation with the workers – simplifying regulations so that more (quality) time is generated, it is exploring and emphasizing best ‘ and/and practices’ and as a result people’s working pleasure is enhanced which adds to the quality of the sector in total.

No matter how important these first steps, they are glimpses of how integral governing might look. And that is not only because the Regeerakkoord is only in operation since a very short time, but also because – as Ken Wilber states: “(…) We have barely begun to scratch the surface in terms of defining what living an ‘Integral Live’ means”. Let alone that we are able to define what an integrally governed society means.

Nevertheless it is crucial to bring more and more consciousness to what s emerging and in doing that also holding leaders responsible for the visions they themselves are bringing into consciousness. We’re not riding a free ride here. And being aware of that is in itself a crucial function of a document like the Regeerakkoord, in which political leaders openly are stating that they want to bring about: (…) a new balance between dynamics and security, ecology and economics, tradition and innovation, security and responsibility, participation and care, freedom and connectedness”. This is the beginning of an Integral Age.

Margot Bosman is a journalist, former gestalt therapist and teacher and also integralist. In 2006 she graduated from the Master of Arts degree program, Conscious Evolution, at the Graduate Institute, Milford (CT). She currently works at the Dutch National Organisation for Client Councils in the Healthcare sector and facilitates a large scale integrally informed change program.