Notes from the Field: From Wooden Shoes to Global Minds: The Dutch Experience

Notes from the Field / January 2008

Don BeckOn December 27, 1657, a small group of 30 Dutch immigrants to the “New World” signed what was known as the Flushing Remonstrance, a manifesto declaring, “no one shall be persecuted because of his religion.” Further, “if any said persons (meaning the Quakers who were quite disruptive at the time) come in love unto us we cannot in conscience lay violent hands on them.” Even then the Dutch were known for their unusual levels of tolerance of differences. Following the construction of the dykes and the creation of the “polder,” the saucer-like space in among then, this theme of tolerance of differences became even more important. Some level of mutual trust and interdependency was essential for reason of basic survival. Lots of fingers might need to plug holes in the dykes as contained in the mythical story of the Dutch boy who saved society by doing so.

On my many trips to South Africa, 63 in all, I would often pass through Schiphol airport on the way. I always enjoyed my time at the Hague, one of my favorite places on the planet. ( I would understand why many years later) By l997 an opportunity came to make presentations of Spiral Dynamics in the country, which soon generated several large projects, from consulting with ptt (the telephone and postal function) to keynoting the first major conference on sustainability, sponsored by the government and Royal Dutch Shell. I sought to explain that sustainability begins with an understanding of a sustainable culture itself, one that meets the needs of people at different levels of development.

(Don Edward Beck, Ph. D., “Sustainable Cultures, Sustainable Planet: A Values System Perspective on Constructive Dialogue and Cooperative Action”—see Reference at the end of this article.)

During these experiences I began to sense that Dutch “Blue” had weakened over the years. Liberated from religious structures and rigid constraints imposed by “anything goes” social tolerance, Dutch, especially in Amsterdam, the city with red light districts and pot-smoking cafes, reveled in their unique sense of personal freedom and equality. I did raise considerable alarm because I feared the advanced, First World society would be vulnerable to threatening “isms” that did not subscribe to the unique Dutch content. Of course, since I have a Texas accent it was easy to dismiss me as a helpful but naive “foreigner.” Yet, even I was “tolerated” in the polder.

But when Pim Fortuyn, the populist anti-immigration politician and controversial film maker Theo van Gogh were both shot down in clear day light, the entire society was shocked, as was much of Europe. Expressions that ranged from self-criticism to self-loathing became vocal, as attempts to seek the causes of the violence, leading to growing vicious stereotyping and accusatory finger pointing. Ugly painted slogans appeared on churches and mosques and growing demands to “kick the foreigners out” entered mainstream political dialogue and electioneering.

At this point I called Peter Merry, a very bright and resourceful English lad who had married a lovely Dutch lady, and moved to The Hague. Merry had happened, more by chance than destiny, to attend a six day SD session I was presenting in Bavaria. He had been very active in the “Green Movement” in Europe but, like many of his day, some doubts had begun to appear as to how societies actually change. (I would later have some fun at his expense when I discovered, much to my pleasant surprise, that my mother’s ethnic background was “Dutch-Holland.” I wondered why she would always ask me to bring tulip bulbs from Schiphol airport when returning to Texas. I would simply say to Dutch audiences that I was “one of them” while my colleague is of the English clan. There would be robust laughter.)

Merry and I contemplated what we might be able to do in responses to the violence and dangerous aftermath. More people had been “trained” per capital in Spiral Dynamics in the Netherlands than in any other country. We thought it would be possible to overlay that model on the deeper causes of the serious polarization that was fostering major conflicts and fragmentation within the polder. Also, we used extensively the Assimilation-Contrast Effects from the seminal work of Professor Muzafer Sherif, formerly of the University of Oklahoma. My Ph.D. dissertation uncovered the nature of polarization over slavery and unionism in the United States in the l850 to l861 decade.

We sent around word that we wanted to host a summit on fundamentalism in the Dutch society. We expected 40 or 50 people to attend, but had to change venues when that number soared to over 200. This is due in large part to Merry and his group’s high levels of credibility in the Netherlands, in addition to his sensitive political skills and conceptual abilities. He was the man of the time for sure. (Merry produced a comprehensive DVD on the event and the background called “The Spiral Dynamics of Fundamentalism in the Dutch context.” The PAL version is available from Fotogracyja ( and we have the NTSC format at

The presentation from this event, Don Edward Beck, Ph.D., “Windmills, Tulips, and Fundamentalism: The Netherlands in Crisis” may be found at


This initial event stirred up enough interest to cause us to plan for a sequel, one focused on the future of the Netherlands. And, over time, the third summit that Merry has described elsewhere in this issue of Integral Leadership Review drew more than 900 Dutch in a highly visible presentation and how the whole issue could be framed within a broader, evolutionary process.

At the same time we had moved to create a Center for Human Emergence (CHE) entity that could incorporate many of the different approaches to emergence, whether or not they flew the Spiral Dynamics “colors.” The first was launched with Teddy Larsen as the Copenhagen Center for Human Emergence, and this has led to “nodes” within the Netherlands, The Middle East, Mexico & Latin America, and others in formative stages.

The newest is CHE-Russia and CIS. You can read about them at http://

It was through the leadership of Peter Merry, Alain Volz, Anne-Marie Voorhoeve, Dr. Maria Jeukens, and many others that CHE-Netherlands has matured through stages. But this is their story which is being told in this issue of Integral Leadership Review by them, of course.

Finally, for those of you interested in large scale systems change or major transformational experiences, there is a great deal to be learned from what happened in the Netherlands. As I’ve tried to say to the Dutch for many years, it is time for them to assume a role of global leadership in these areas. The title of my presentation at the

Klaaromtewenden summit was “Tall Poppies in the Land of Tulips.” “Tall Poppies” refers to what happens to “poppies” if they rise above the others, because they are the very first to be cut down. I first heard of that language while working in Australia. Since the Dutch (both men and women) have soared to new physical heights—they are getting taller—our challenge to them was to rise above the crowd to share the uniqueness of their experiences and unique understanding of tolerance and sustainability to the rest of the planet.

What can the rest of us learn and apply from the land of windmills, tulips, and tall people? For those who are interested in large scales systems “transformations,” please take heed.

First, Transformational Leaders must monitor the Life Conditions to leverage crises, defining moments, and dramatic events to reframe the priorities and shift the paradigms.

New thinking and models (or paradigms) only rise and become popular when they possess greater explanatory power then what they replace. To attempt to market them glibly, or superimpose them over current leadership structures before these new conditions change the context, are usually futile and waste resources. Clare Graves used the term “saccadic” to indicate that it takes a series of fits and starts, like eye flutters, which set the stage for a quantum-like shift.

Events such as 9-11, Pearl Harbor, the onset of viruses and small pox, and other threats become necessary for a large scale transformational system to emerge out of the chaos. Before these conditions appear, all hell can’t generate major change; once they do, all hell can’t stop it.

Second, Transformational Leaders must respect the interior (value systems) and external (economic, environmental, habitat) capacities and potentials in societies to become different than what they are presently.

Too often, leaders fall into the trap of believing they can manipulate anybody (or any society) to become what THEY want them to become. I still recall the cautions from Professor Graves to me personally: “Remember, Don, all you can do is help a society become what is next for it to become.” This often takes the form of the “higher is better trap,” the belief that one must only seek after more complex spiral-based codes to find a healthy condition. Often, the best strategy is to enhance the horizontal or intensity expression of a value system that is too weak, or has been neglected, or has atrophied for all kinds of reasons. In the case of the Netherlands, one of the most serious problems was in the DQ-Blue (4th Level) zone which needed to be revitalized as a structure and renewed and updated in the 21 Century content of the code. So, a new Dutch Charter of Cultural Beliefs became necessary. This new Dutch “mother board” could integrate common beliefs across the pluralistic polder. Rather than aligning traditional Dutch Blue against Islamic Blue (like forcing magnets together) the idea is to show how both can be plunked down on the emerging Dutch spiral. They will be interconnected by the universality of memetic codes that flow throughout all social systems.

Third, Transformational Leaders should identify in developing or changing societies those individuals who are still accepted within the cultures, but are showing alternative thinking as their lead partners in the transformational experience.


Our successes within the Spiral Dynamics-informed initiative and the CHE-Netherlands organizing structure were a function of “indigenous” leadership within the society. Rather than impose a top-down solution and organization born and bred in the United States or anywhere else for that matter, onto the unique historic Dutch culture, our strategy was to help as much as we can and when invited, but to trust in the intelligences of people who have to live with what they have created.

If you think of Spiral Dynamics as a seedling rather than a mature plant, and accept that the unique combination of soil, weather, and environmental variables will shape how the seedling forms and “grows,” then you will understand what I’m saying.

A personal note: We have all benefited immensely from the leadership Peter Merry has demonstrated in walking the integral talk. He has been aided, of course, by many who have demonstrated creativity, good sense, patience, and love in finding new ways to assist “the Land of Tulips and Windmills” to not only deal with its current challenges, but to begin to craft a political process and “Declaration of Interdependence” that provide a process, and model, and inspiration that could well impact us all.

Don Edward Beck, Ph. D., “Sustainable Cultures, Sustainable Planet: A Values System Perspective on Constructive Dialogue and Cooperative Action,” June 18, 2001, Leaps and Spirals; The Road to Sustainable Development In a National and International Perspective, Sponsored by Nido Nationaal Initiatief Duurzame Ontwikkeling, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands,
Don Edward Beck, Ph. D. is well known as the person primarily responsible for projecting the “emergent, cyclical, double helix model of biopsychosocial systems development” from Professor Clare W. Graves (Union College, New York) onto the global screen. He started working directly with Professor Graves in l975. The popular name is Spiral Dynamics. In his basic research, work with graduate students, many different publications, consulting and advising projects, and societal interventions he has demonstrated how to apply on a practical and large scale systems basis this elegant, evolutionary model. His first application was in the difficult South African transformation when many were predicting a civil war. In this issue of ILR you will read about a recent application within the Dutch society as it has wrestled with the threats from radical fundamentalism across many domains, internal and external. Currently, along with Elza Maalouf, he is deeply embed in the Israeli-Palestinian context as yet another case-study in working within the deep value system currents to defuse surface level explosions and deadly global conflict. He has just launched another such application within the complex and dynamics Russian Federation. He describes himself as a heat-seeking missile, and is drawn to complex and dangerous problems and situations, seeking innovative and lasting solutions. He sees his role to be significantly different from both “peace-making” or ‘negotiation,” as he advocates the processes of Natural Design.
Beck currently consults with Twynstranetwerk, a major full purpose consultancy in Amsterdam. He was identified by What is Enlightenment? magazine as “the philosopher-activist of the 21st Century.” He can be reached at He lives in Denton, Texas where he taught many years at the University of North Texas.

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