Integral for the Masses!

Integral for the Masses / March 2006

Keith BellamyIntegral Awareness

Earlier this week I had the honour and the privilege to be sitting in my local Integral Salon listening to one of the Salon members recount a recent experience where she had attempted to introduce Integral Theory to a group of CEOs.  At a weekend retreat, she and her colleagues were trying to help this group of highly motivated, young leaders understand that aspects of the Integral Model could prove to be powerful tools as they grapple with the challenges facing their predominantly not for profit enterprises.

We probably spent more than three-quarters of the salon session discussing the experiences of that weekend, even though its appropriateness to the planned topic for the evening was tenuous at best.  But hey, this was an Integral Salon and we don’t allow planned topics to stand in the way of a good debate, and we most certainly didn’t on this particular evening.  Our evening turned into one of the best case studies on the attempted teaching of the Integral Model, and I don’t believe that anybody in our circle didn’t leave without having gained insights that will affect their approach to matters Integral in the future.

Personally, I was thrilled and excited to hear about this conscious attempt to take Integral Theory out from the closed cloisters of Boulder, academia and scattered Salons into the real world and to posit it as a potential mechanism to achieve radical and insightful change for the good.  The sense that this nascent movement, which has played such an important feature in my life for almost a decade, is gaining strength and becoming a force for change certainly filled me with a sense of awe.

The fact that this attempt to take the theory into the real world failed, according to our reporter, was of little consequence to us as a group.  Our passion was inflamed by the audacity and courage that she and her colleagues had displayed in presenting it to a group of individuals who were facing real challenges with their Enterprises over the coming months and years.  We spent a great deal of time in the Salon trying to get to the root of why the approach had been rebuffed, and also encouraging our colleague to continue with her experiment.

Yet as I left the room I was left pondering a question that has presented itself to me many times over the years, “Why do seemingly smart and intelligent individuals do dumb things?”  This group of CEOs had enough diplomas between them to probably wallpaper my office at home, yet when they were presented with a way to cut through many of their problems and to achieve their stated objectives in a fraction of the time it might otherwise take, they rejected the opportunity out of hand.  Their prestigious school educations had opened doors for them, allowing them to reach positions of importance and influence at an early age, yet it had not prepared them to take a different perspective on their problems and to recognise the potential associated benefits.

As I walked towards my car that evening it struck me that perhaps Integral Theory itself might have some insights into why smart people act this way.  If it does, perhaps it might help us to understand how better to get the message across to leaders in all fields who have not had the opportunity to embrace the integral message so far.  On my drive home, a crazy idea started to manifest, “What if there was another line in human development?”  For want of a better name, let’s call this line the Integral Awareness Developmental Line (IADL for short), and lets assume that it lays dormant until other lines, particularly cognitive development, reach a particular stage of maturity.

If, and remember this just a hypothesis that I am sharing with you at the moment with little or no empirical evidence to substantiate it, the IADL existed, what might it look like?  Does it have a pre-rational followed by a rational then followed by a post rational phase?  Within those phases are there definable stages of development?  Finally, how might we use the development of the IADL to better promulgate the message of Integral into the wider world?

Having allowed these questions to bounce around in my head for a couple of days, I would like to share with you my first cut at how the IADL might evolve.

Pre-rational Phase
The early stages of the IADL’s development often make no sense to the individual in respect of all other aspects of his or her understanding of the world and how it works.  This can lead to some particularly strange and abnormal behaviours on the part of the individual as he or she transcends through the early stages of development which include:
The old way of doing things no longer work.  Slogging through their seemingly mundane day-to-day existence, emergent Integralees (for want of a better term) are driven by the thought, “there has to be a better way.”  At that moment they open themselves up to alternative ways of thinking about their universe, and in doing so, ordain to consider Integral Theory as a potential answer. 
Yet the probability of their openly accepting something that appears as new and radical as Integral Theory is minimal.  They become “Closet Integralees,” they seek out information, which is readily available (how did we ever survive without and read books and articles in the security of their own space, but maintain an apparent barrier of being closed to the subject in public.
Eventually, over time, the intellectual masturbation of self-learning is no longer sufficient for the IALD and it transcends to its next natural stage of development, forcing the behaviours of the Integralee to adapt accordingly.
Whilst our integral adventurer cannot share his or her newfound love with his or her traditional colleagues, friends or members of family for fear of being ridiculed or worse still ostracised for challenging the status quo, the closet is no longer where he or she wishes to remain.  They start seeking out others who have hooked onto this new font of wisdom and attempt to associate with them.  “Coming Out” might be a multi-step process for the individual.
Initially, he or she might sign up to a web site like Integral Naked where it is possible to maintain a mask of anonymity whilst starting to feel part of a larger tribe.  No pressure is exerted, yet the Integralee can feed his or her desires by pulling material, in what feels like a more personalised form, into his or her life.  The next step might be to join an on-line list where, after several months of “lurking,” our evolving Integralee gathers the courage and respond to a post by another list member.  Self doubt evaporates as fellow participants on the list respond positively either by welcoming and appreciating his or her comments; or arguing against them in a constructive and supportive manner.
Fuelled by the encouragement from an accepting community that, in all probability none of whom our intrepid explorer has never met, he or she steps up and joins a salon.  From there, he or she starts attending workshops and before one knows it, a significant proportion of the individual’s time is spent with and in communication with other members of the Integral Community.  And what strange bed-fellows this new collective is made up of; oftentimes individuals that the Integralee would hardly have given the time of day to before he or she set off on this path, now form the bedrock upon which his or her more integrally informed life is being built.
Whilst for some Integralees this is a comfortable place to reside and his or her evolution might stop here, it often means leading a dual life.  Sure he or she is no longer in the closet, it is just that the closet opens onto a single room that is filled with other like-minded individuals.  Outside of that room is a big wide world where Integral doesn’t begin to matter, and for the evolving Integralee that can start to become frustrating.  He or she wants to take the gifts that have been acquired by participating in an Integral tribe and share them with other colleagues, friends and family members.
When this urge gets strong enough the next stage of IADL emerges, often leading to behaviours that surprise even the Integralee, let alone those who know and love him or her in the wider world.
It as if the individual has found religion.  Now he or she wants to shout the benefits of all things Integral from the rooftop!  In fact that is precisely what happens.  “Integral has been sent to save you!  Read this book!  Check out this Website!  See the error in your ways!”  Sound familiar?  It is a necessary step in the healthy evolution of the IADL line.  Our Integralee has not only come out of the closet and left the room; he or she has most definitely left the building.  There is no place that the application of Integral Theory cannot, in his or her opinion, improve some aspect of the world, and our hero is going to let everybody know about it.
Yet if the target audience’s own IADL has not yet been evoked, the Integralee is sowing seeds onto infertile ground with little chance of any flowers blooming.  Worse still, if our theory of IADL development holds true, even if a colleague’s line has started to evolve he or she will still have to start at the very beginning; having Integral thrust in his or her face is the last thing that is needed.  There is even the chance of the integral proselyte becoming boorish with his or own integral community as some of the humility from earlier stages of development gets lost along the way.
The threat of pathology emerging at this stage of development has to be very real.  Our heroes, with the best of intentions, can find that they are ostracised by those that they are seeking to “save.”  Their working life can become completely disrupted as they try to do things more integrally in a workplace that is quite satisfied with the way things are thank you very much.  Close friends stop answering telephone calls and family members leave the room when our Integralee enters just to avoid having their ear bent with the latest pronouncement from some Integral guru or other.
Yet this reaction from the wider non-integral community is exactly what is needed not only to push the Integralee to the next stage of development but into a more rational phase as well.
Rational Phase
The impulsive and opportunistic exuberance demonstrated by the Integralee gives way to a far more considered approach to spreading the message as the IADL continues its evolutionary process through further stages outlined below:
At this developmental stage the Integralee displays greater discernment in where and how he or she attempts to propagate the messages of Integral Theory.  This is achieved by stepping back from each situation and assessing whether introducing Integral Theory will actually enhance the outcome.  Our hero, learning from past mistakes, develops an understanding as to individuals who might be receptive, and in what circumstances and form to introduce Integral concepts.
The hallmark of this developmental stage is that our Integral Adventurer recognises that there is more than one way to skin a cat and creates a number of different vehicles to introduce his or her concepts.  Many of these will be extremely subtle and ne’er a mention of quadrant, line or stage is mentioned; yet concepts are passed to the audience by metaphor and example.  As a consequence, the Integralee is cautiously welcomed back into the fold, as he or she only offers opinions when asked for them.
Over time, the Integralee starts to notice a greater acceptance of his or her input.  When the insight that he or she delivers causes a “WOW! How did you think or see that?” from his or her audience, the discerning Integralee is more likely to shrug shoulders than to launch into the merits of adopting an Integral Pluralistic Methodological approach to the problem.
As the Integralee becomes increasingly recognised for his or her contribution in the wider non-integral community, the IADL starts to metamorphose into the next stage of its developmental process.
At this stage of the IADL’s development, the Integralee recognises that he or she can personally benefit from the inspiration that Integral Theory provides.  Whilst part of that benefit might be material or even positional at work, the major benefit arises from being able to integrally inform an increasingly wider audience and to make a real difference in decisions that affect peoples’ lives.
At this stage of development, the Integralee has incorporated Integral Concepts into just about everything he or she tries to do.  However, it takes conscious effort to keep the Integralee on his or her toes.  Over time, lapses or demonstrations of non-integral behaviour start to drop away.  Our hero starts to become a role model for others be it in the workplace, family or any other collective that the Integralee participates in.
It is not unusual for Integralees at this developmental stage to attract “followers” who seek to emulate his or her approach to life.  Whilst this is to be encouraged, it is a great responsibility for the nascent teacher.  If he or she has not fully transcended and included the earlier stages of this developmental process, there is a real threat of the evolutionary thread unravelling as the Integralee reverts to pushing theory rather teaching by walking the talk.
As the Integralee overcomes this hurdle the IADL makes it final leap into its post-rational phase.
Post-Rational Phase
At this stage of development, the Integralee unconsciously assesses every situation and allows Integral Theory to inform his or her decision.  Energy is not wasted attempting to convert the unconvertible to the fold.  Appropriate responses loaded with integral insight are used to move decisions in the most apposite direction.  Most importantly, our Integralee is skilled at recognising, when it exists, the stage of development of the IADL in other individuals and uses that to formulate interventions designed to maximise impact and transformation.
As I said earlier the IADL is a hypothesis that came to me whilst driving home after my Integral Salon meeting.  It feels “right” to me but needs a lot more exploration.  If it has a foundation of truth to it then it might just form a basis for those of us in the integral community to get our message across to a much wider audience faster than has been the case to date.  It cautions against the overt teaching of theory and argues the need to practice what we preach.  It suggests that we sugar coat the theory through the use of metaphor and example to make it palatable to a wider audience.  Most importantly, it intimates that the challenge whilst huge is not insurmountable, and that has to be good news.