Russ: Elza Maalouf, it is a great honor and privilege and pleasure to have you return to the pages of the Integral Leadership Review.
Elza: It‘s always a pleasure to talk to you Russ and thank you for ILR.
Russ: You’ve published material in Integral Leadership Review about some of your activities in the Middle East with Don Beck implementing spiral dynamics or bringing spiral dynamics to Palestine. I think there’s been some reference to your work in other parts of the Middle East. In Syria for example at one time and down in the Arabian Peninsula. I don’t think many people know very much about you. It’s time to pull the curtain apart. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you prepared yourself for getting involved in spiral dynamics.
Elza: Well, I was born in Lebanon in a town called Zahle, the Catholic capital of the Middle East. The Maalouf family was one of 7 founding families of the town. The current mayor is a Maalouf. I was the youngest of four children and the only girl. The Maalouf family is well known for its poets, scientists, and intellectuals. My father was the patriarch of the family. Growing up we saw so many people coming to our house who brought with them a variety of memes – intellectual memes, political memes, religious memes. Our home attracted a different level of complexity than other homes in the neighborhood. So I was exposed to poets, to scientists, teachers and University professors – both men and women.
My mother was a bright individual who married young and with little formal education. But she used to read a book a day. This is the kind of family I grew up in. She and my Dad were adamant about all the children receiving a good education. They especially wanted me to develop an individuality that set me apart from my brothers. I went to a Catholic school where the nuns were highly educated; they had PhDs and Masters Degrees in various subjects. I didn’t like being there that much. But I remember them fondly, because they built that Blue in me. This is the basis of the spiral where you start thinking in abstract concepts. Today, many people tell me I think in Yellow-integral terms, and I really have that strong Blue foundation of home and school life to thank.
Russ: Could you clarify what you mean by Blue for our readers?
Elza: Yes. Catholic school has stringent requirements and you have to get good grades in order for your peers and your teachers to respect you. I had to work hard. I actually worked smart more than hard. The nuns instilled a type of structure and order that has served me throughout my life. At home, my mom made sure no one was bothering me when I was doing homework. I was also a Girl Scout. I won prizes for leadership and service. That is another type of Blue that can teach kids purpose in service to others. At this particular level of development, structure and leadership come together to create a solid foundation for effective leaders in the future..
Russ: Is it a principled leadership approach?
Elza: It is a principled leadership because you are in service to others. It’s very similar to religious Blue that I believe many parts of the world are developing into. It teaches moral and ethical standards as well. Maybe not in the U.S., but for other parts of the world it’s what’s next for them.
Russ: After you went through Catholic school, what next?
Elza: I wanted to go to Beirut to St. Joseph’s University – it’s a Catholic school as well – but war broke out. I had to stay in my area and go to the Lebanese University. This really helped me much more than being in an ordered type of university. The first year of law school, I was spending time doing research at the library. I became the go-to nerd who knew case law and their legal reference in both civil and contract law. To me this was a natural extension of my home life, since we grew up in Lebanon discussing politics all the time. My Dad used to sit next to me when I was 10 years old, hand me the newspaper and point at different parts for me to read. So, from the beginning I was politically oriented, it’s something that we don’t do enough here in this country
The reason I went to law school was to be elected as a Member of Parliament and to change the laws for women in my country. I was disillusioned later on, because getting elected to Lebanon’s Parliament was based on nepotism and favoritism. Your dad has to be someone or you have to belong to a certain party or a certain sect, in order to become a Member of Parliament. Sadly, this is very tribal.
Russ: Your family did not have this level of status, then?
Elza: It was influential in my time, but in non-political areas. It was not even near that status in elected politics. We had the town Za’eem who was almost like a clan leader. His father is elected, then he is elected, and then the son is elected. So it’s more of a patriarchal system, rather than a patriotic system. I was writing articles in the newspapers against these clan leaders. Even though my Dad would vote for him and for his whole list of candidates, I was writing articles against the corruption of these clan leaders and was not the most popular girl because of it.
Russ: How did that show up in the community; what happened?
Elza: Many people supported what I was doing – the French-educated people, the artists, people who are more on the intellectual side. I was a Marxist at that time, so I was meeting with people who had socialistic tendencies. We were a strange group. I really didn’t care then, because I wanted to be different. I knew that the status quo was not serving our people. The politicians didn’t have an agenda, didn’t present an agenda and they were not serving our people. So I couldn’t sit still and watch this happening in front of me.
Russ: About what year was this?
Elza: That was like early 80s.
Russ: I remember coming through Beirut in 1969 and having a 3:00 PM curfew imposed. When I looked outside the hotel into the streets, I would see people with machine guns and tanks and things like that. In the 80s there had been some period of instability in Lebanon. Didn’t you feel like you were at risk?
Elza: The civil war started 1974 and it lasted till early 90s, 1992 almost. So it lasted this long but in the Bekaa Valley, the province where I’m from, it really didn’t develop into a full blown out war, because the Syrian army tried to maintain order. They would set up checkpoints and things like that. Everybody was afraid of everybody else, because there were snitches who were with the Syrian army. Maybe they didn’t pay too much attention to me, because I was a Christian kid from this Catholic town. They checked for guns, not political philosophy and they paid more attention to the men in my group.
I went off the radar and our group went underground. We met at my house discussing all kinds of issues. These were older professorial men, and one time one of them went to my neighbor’s house by mistake, and without asking a question, the neighbor said, “No, no Elza’s house is over there.” pointing in the direction of our house.
Russ: Everybody was coming to see Elza?
Russ: So then what happened?
Elza: I got married. The marriage didn’t work out, so I divorced my husband and left Lebanon. That was in 1994.
Russ: Where did you go?
Elza: I came straight to the States because I had lived here before for three years. I was practicing a meditation and wanted to deepen my psycho-spiritual Green values. With very little income, I lived a really frugal life. This was quite a change after getting used to shopping in Paris and London and all that. But I was free – that freedom I felt while living on a shoestring made me aware of how much inward freedom we have within us as human beings. This is something we’re just beginning to search for here.
Russ: Where did you go in the United States to live?
Elza: First, I went to Washington DC; then moved to Canada for six months.I came back to the United States. I spend sometime at spiritual retreats in Oregon and in upper state New York. But mostly I lived in Washington DC in a small apartment. We held Satsang, a gathering of truth three times a week. I taught meditation on the behalf ofmy spiritual teacher. After that I moved to Florida andopened a city meditation center. It was a community effort.We taught vegetarian cooking and healthy living. Many commissioners in the city in Miami and Sunny Isles came to meditate in our center. I taught the esoteric spirituality behind the poetry of great masters like Rumi, Hafiz and Mirabai. I then went deeper into consciousness studies, into understanding Jungian analysis. I still have tons of books about the I Ching. I studied the New Age movement as well. Most importantly, I spend a summer reading Joseph Campbell and Alan Watts. They’ve changed my perspective on life.
Russ: How so?
Elza: Well, Joseph Campbell the mythologist had put the patterns of the hero’s journey together. Reading the Hero’s Journey was an amazing thing for me, because then I was able to find my journey within those patterns. Alan Watts was a no nonsense type of Buddhist, which I really liked. His teachings are very similar to my spiritual teachers teaching. So I really enjoy a no nonsense approach to spirituality.
Russ: It’s interesting the only formal meditation class I ever did was with Alan Watts.
Elza: No way. This is awesome.
Russ: I studied Jung, after I had my PhD. I was in a Masters in Humanistic Psychology program at Sonoma State University. I focused on Gestalt group therapy and Jung’s archetypal psychology. The man whose work influenced my thinking the most around Jung was James Hilman at the time. He was still in Switzerland before he went to the University of Texas and on with other things.
Elza: I studied Jung on my own because I wanted to understand myself. I joined the Friends of Jung here in San Diego to deepen my understanding as well.
Russ: So when did you move to San Diego?
Elza: When I met Said my husband. I was still running the meditation center in Miami when I met him online. I don’t know if I told you that?
Russ: No, I don’t think so.
Elza: On AOL Love or something! He was a developer in Phoenix at the time. I emailed. Two weeks later he emailed me back and he said, “I just went through divorce a year ago. I’m taking time off of my work to find god in Turkey.” So I said, “Well god is here too, so come!” Then he came to Miami. Long story short, we decided to move together to San Diego. That was 13 years ago.
Russ: What kind of work were you doing then?
Elza: I continued the spiritual work for a while. I used to fly to New York and other places to give presentations in different expos. I had a radio show in phoenix. Then, I started to combine my spiritual and psychology understanding to what I knew before, when I was in business in Lebanon. I tried to combine them; I dabbled at the beginning a little bit in spiritual intelligence consulting. I called my courses Self Work. Then, about a year and a half later I went to the first Integral Leadership Program at the Integral Institute. Everything, the training material, the lectures, all pointed to Dr. Don Beck. So, I turned to John Schmidt who was sitting next to me and I said, “Everything is pointing to Don; and to spiral dynamics. Is this man accessible?” He said, “Yes. He is doing a training in the next month or so.” So, I immediately found the date and went to his training and we’ve been working together ever since.
Russ: So you went through the level one and two certifications…?
Elza: Yes, I did go through that, but trainees barely touched the surface going through the certification. So I went again and again to understand the deeper applications of the theory until we started working together in Israel and Palestine in 2005.
Russ: How did the relationship with Don Beck develop?
Elza: Well the first training was in Boulder. Bert Parlee was one of the trainers. You know how Don likes a classroom type of set up?
Elza: Bert came in and he started doing these role-playing exercises with the different levels of the spiral. When he did the exercise for Red, it opened up all the wounds from the civil war in Lebanon.. The exercise brought me back to time when I saw my first boyfriend dying from his wounds. That’s when I felt that Red is real. It kills people; it goes the extra step and destroys people’s lives.
The other exercises were very sweet and nice. But the experience with Red stayed with me. At the debrief the next day everybody was praising Don and Bert, and so on. I said that I did not feel safe going from a classroom set up, to doing exercises that can trigger your cellular memory. Don pushed his glasses up and he said, “Well, we are not into sensitivity training here” I said, “It’s obvious and I can help.” Well, we immediately hit it off. We exchanged emails after that and started working together.
Don tried to educate me. He would send me articles and material to shape my memetic understanding – different material from the news. He started training me from day one.
Russ: Did he tell you why?
Elza: I think he saw something in me that is different. Remember, Russ, I grew up in a Purple/Red society. I had a strong Blue/Orange in my family. So I know the shape of beige, of purple, of Red. I know them. I’ve lived them. That’s very important, because many of us think that we can embrace the whole world or we have a whole worldview. Well, most of the Western world is born into Blue or higher and might not possess the same worldview.
Russ: Because we’ve not had the life conditions to develop it?
Russ: The work that you’ve done with Don Beck that I’m most familiar with is the work you did in Palestine. How did that come about?
Elza: Well, it started basically, one night when Rafi Nasser and Neri Baron, who wrote many articles for the Integral Leadership Review, were sitting in the Yemeni Quarter in Tel Aviv. This was after an Israeli Integral Cafe discussion about Spiral Dynamics. They said, “What if Don Beck can do the same thing here as he did in South Africa? Even though the circumstances are completely different, they were thinking, “Why don’t we bring Don Beck here anyway?”
So, I think in 2004, Don was speaking with Andrew Cohen in New York and that’s when they went to hear him speak and asked him to come to Israel. “Well send me an email” Don said. Sure enough they sent him an email immediately. Don then asked this wonderful human being, John Smith, a house builder from Omaha, for financial support for the project. John was waiting for Don to do something anywhere in the world and he sponsored us.
Russ: I interviewed John Smith in the Integral Leadership Review.
Elza: An unbelievable human being!
Russ: So John sponsored the trip and Don asked you to go with him?
Elza: Don called and he said, “Do you want to come with me to Israel?” I said, “Sure”. I hung up the phone and I said, “Shit, Israelis!” You can quote me on this.
Israelis are the enemy; the Palestinians are the enemy. So in one moment, Russ, I descended into ethnocentric levels. Immediately I descended into my ethnocentric identity. I’m a universal soul. I woke up after a minute or so and said, “You know what? I’m a third party and I will do that. I’m going to do it”.
Russ: You’ve written in Integral Leadership Review about your work in Palestine. Maybe you could summarize what the two of you did.
Elza: Don wrote an article in 2000 about what needs to happen in Israel and Palestine called Fresh Start. When we went the first time, all we did was listen. We met a brilliant human being called Nafiz Rifai, a Third Generation Fatah Leader, who quickly understood the spiral dynamics framework and he set up meetings for us. We met with all kinds of people. We met with women leaders, with young generation Fatah leaders; we met with the governor of Bethlehem. We met with people in refugee camps as well. So, even though I’m a student of the history of the region, we still needed to understand the mindsets and the content of the culture from the mouth of Palestinians. We did the same in Israel as well.
We understood there is an asymmetry between the two cultures; that’s why the so-called peace accords don’t work. For many reasons the Palestinian culture has less complex value systems and blame enough to go around. For many other reasons Israeli culture has more complexity – because of the Diaspora, because of the money that we send there, et cetera. So we focused on building capacities in Palestinian society. That in a nutshell is what we tried to do. Our partners till now still receive calls. I just talked to Nafiz and Abdul Majeed who said, “They’ve been waiting for you; why aren’t you coming?” They still call them the spiral people and they ask them to hold events for them, because they know the spiral people are well organized and understand the memetic structures of the Palestinians.
Russ: So what has kept that from happening more recently; has it just been the funding?
Elza: It’s funding. It’s timing. It’s when should we go with the dynamics that are happening now with the Arab scene. With Prime Minister Fayyad resigning as well, it’s a real loss for the Palestinians. Fayyad was a visionary who could have taken Palestine to the next level. But unfortunately on the other side the government in Israel felt that they don’t have a partner in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. Because Hamas, the extremist party, is ruling over Gaza and they don’t respect the Palestinian authority in the West Bank, the Israelis see they don’t have a partner in the leadership in the West Bank that could control Hamas in Gaza.
Russ: Fatah is the group you actually ended up working with you. I recall you had an assembly of some 700, if I’m not mistaken?
Elza: Yes, we invited 500 and 700 showed up; some people said it was 1,200 people. I was talking to Don he said, “Do we have enough food to feed those people?” I said, “Well I’ll talk to the hotel maybe we can pay to have more food delivered.” He said, “No, no just give me a loaf of bread and a fish.”
Russ: The outcome of that as I recall was a shift away from a focus on survival and the treatment of Israel as the enemy to a new perspective – how do we build a Palestinian future. Is that correct?
Elza: Absolutely! We organized the attendees into 60 groups. We asked them to write, how they would imagine the future of Palestine designed by the Palestinians for Palestinians? Each group wrote their vision for the future of Palestine. I think one or two groups talked about the occupation, the rest were worried about what’s inside the culture. How can we get rid of corruption in the culture? The money that is coming in aid to Palestine – where is it going? Which pockets are they enriching? There was a young group who kept $2 million aside and I asked, “Why?” They said, “Well it’s the bribery for the sons of the cabinet members”. They set that aside because nothing happened in that part of the world without greasing the right wheels and these kids understood it.
But what amazed me most were the women. One woman, who was an engineer in planning and urban design, presented her case and the case of the group of women with her, in the most marvelous way. They talked about the infrastructure. They talked about healthcare. They talked about how to get rid of corruption in government institutions.
We were really inspired with one group of young men who said, “We want to open the best universities in the world, where Arabs and Westerners alike can come and learn in our universities.” So they have dreams just like everybody else in the world.
Russ: How long since you were there?
Elza: It’s been a few years.
Russ: What are you aware of about any follow up that’s occurred in Palestine as a result of the work that you did with them? I hear that they keep asking you to come back, but has there been anything…?
Elza: Abdul Majeed Al Soweety and Neri Bar-On are still teaching the theory in many universities. Now the young people in universities, who look up to the leadership of Nafiz Rifaee and Abdul Majeed won the elections against Hamas again. Unlike universities in the West, politics in the Middle East plays a major role in Universities. So our kids are still learning spiral dynamics and they are strategically winning elections.
Elza: But, to tell you the truth Russ, Don and I can’t wait to go back.
Russ: I know you’ve had the experience in using this work in other parts of the Middle East. Maybe we have time for you to tell us about one other context in which you’ve used spiral dynamics?
Elza: The other context is I worked with businesses and social entrepreneurs. I picked one large company. I was so lucky and I have been working with them for five years. They are headquartered in Kuwait with presence in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Dubai. Abu Dhabi, UK and I think Africa. But outside the Middle East, they’re mostly in the UK with operations in all those other countries. I’ve just received the DVD of a Leadership Summit we held at headquarters just before I left a few weeks ago. Everything is Orange so it’s the emergence of Orange in that part of the world – at least in that company.
Under the leadership of the Chairwoman and over the period of three years we tried to right the ship.We build Blue capacities for meaning and purpose. We did things like implement equal pay for different ethnicities, but based on merit. Because usually people get paid according to where they come from. If you are Filipino you are paid less. If you are Egyptian you are paid more. If you are Indian you are paid more. If you speak two languages, if you speak Arabic, you are paid more. If you are Lebanese you are paid more. Brits and Americans are paid the most. Thanks to the leadership of the CEO – and she’s a woman, of course – we did equal pay based on merit. So we tried to have Blue and Orange emerge at the same time.
So equality came based on merit and based on their capacity to develop their future potential. We tightened key performance indicators and started promoting people from within the company. Now, if they can make a compelling case for certain jobs in the company, they can be promoted from within.
Russ: Are you aware of the impact in the time you’ve been working with them on their bottom line? Have profits been stable or they’ve been growing?
Elza: We created a culture that supports the human potential of employees. Which in turn motivated them to increase their productivity. Happy employees contribute positively to the bottom line. As a result Profit have been in the double digits every year since we started the work.
Russ: There are a growing number of people who have been exposed to Spiral Dynamics; the Center for Human Emergence is starting even now in the United States – and joins those in the Middle East, Germany, the Netherlands, UK, Denmark, and elsewhere – thanks to Tom Christensen. What would you advise people who would really like to be able to bring Spiral Dynamics into their work, either in the political or the business arena in any country?
Elza: I would say, spend some time studying Israel and Palestine in order to understand thenature of conflict according to our work and Don’smodel based on the Assimilation Contrast Effect. I don’t think many people in our constellation and in the integral world, understand the depths of the assimilation contrast model. We focus as much on the polarization within each side to a conflict. It’s an intra polarization more than it is an inter polarization. So in the Assimilation Contrast Effect you have the same parties on each side of the issue with their corresponding vMEMEs – Democrats, Republicans, liberals, and conservatives in different countries. In Palestine, it’s Fatah and Hamas. The intra conflict within each side is just as important as the inter conflict between the two sides in any polarization.
In the United States we have, for example David Brooks who’s kind of a pragmatist. I don’t like the word moderate. But he’s a pragmatist in the Republican Party and sometimes he has Yellow, integral, second tier comments in his articles. You have the extreme – I don’t remember the senator’s names – but you have the extreme in the Republican Party. The same goes for the Democrats; you have the extreme left and the middle of the party. So it’s those dynamics that you need to pay attention to. I was presenting a lecture to Laura Horn’s graduate students at the University of Virginia. They were really mostly interested in how we can apply the Assimilation Contrast Model to better understand what can happen here in the US.
So, especially in the US and Europe, if we’re looking at the economic aspects, the financial aspects of the country, the social aspects of the country, we rarely look at value-systems structure of the country. We have to take a comprehensive, polylateral view of the issues in any country, before we attempt to create any solutions.
Russ: What do you advise people who want to get involved?
Elza: I really would advise them to attend training with Don Beck, especially now. He’s at a stage in his life where he wants to leave a legacy not after the money. He has lowered the rates so much, it more accessible. You know Said and I train with him. We consider it an honor and a privilege. I think people need to attend training with Don, to just a get a glimpse into his genius. If they have questions we can answer them. I don’t know how much longer he’ll be doing offering this invaluable training.
Russ: So in order to carry it forward, are you mentoring other people?
Elza: Yes, in the Middle East. But I would love to mentor some people elsewhere, as well. If some PhD students want to do an internship with the CHE Middle East, in the memetic aspect of Conflict Resolution, I will be more than glad to mentor them.
Russ: Are there other people who are mentoring people to be effective in understanding and using Spiral Dynamics?
Elza: I think Marilyn Hamilton is doing a marvelous job. I’m not aware of others. I have been so focused on what I have been doing in the last five years. I immersed myself, because of what Don told me about what he did in South Africa. He was able to change the culture by changing businesses. The same goes with Northern Ireland as well, when the Coca Cola logo beamed on that cathedral, that’s when change started. Of course it’s many things. It’s the co-op banking and the capacities in the people of Northern Ireland. But, I believe that businesses in the Middle East are capable of changing the status quo, because they are doing it by stealth and thank god they are doing it.
Russ: I’m writing an essay/review of John Mackey and Raj Sisodia’s new book, Conscious Capitalism. They support the work of Don Beck. They mentioned Don at least two or three times in the book. So it sounds like you are suggesting that the greatest potential for focus of this work is within the business community: to try and bring about the kinds of development that we are looking for.
Elza: If we have conscious business or what John MacKey calls conscious capitalism, businesses will strive to enhance the bottom line as well as the well being of the employees. The model I’m following is very similar. I call it functional capitalism. It’s more about how can I meet those people where they are in that part of the world: to place business in concentric circles or concentric holons.
When I started advising the CEO of this company, I looked at where this company was. Which country and region and assessed the holonic aspect of the company or the biopsychosocial or the four quadrants of the company, however you want to put it. I looked at the industry in which this company exists; they have their own homegrown concepts that are healthy, natural, et cetera. But they also have quick serve restaurants. So that’s another holon. I also put those holons in the global dynamics, the major holon. The price of commodities, affect every quick serve restaurant in the world.
I had to study so many aspects in order for me to properly advise the chairperson and CEO on the next strategic step for the company. So functional capitalism looks at the life conditions in the country, the life conditions of the industry and the life conditions globally. You tailor it according to where the company is and in which industry.
Russ: Have you or has anyone else written a case study on functional capitalism?
Elza: You know Said has been working closely with Don as well. He’s written an entire segment on functional capitalism in his upcoming book MEMEnomics. His model addresses macro-memetic issues of the US economy that is really an eye opener. I’m also writing about Functional Capitalism based on models on the corporate level, or meso-memetic.
Russ: Wonderful, I look forward to reading it one day. Elza, is there anything I haven’t asked you, you wish I had?
Elza: There are a few things I teach in this company in particular; I tailor them to the culture – UK, Kuwait, Iraq or Dubai. In addition to teaching Spiral Dynamics, I teach Integral Emotional Intelligence as it applies to these specific cultures. I’m also teaching the heroes journey. They’re always happy when I say that George Lucas based all the scripts of the Star Wars movies on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. So now they can relate. So heroes can move up the spiral too. I had a supporter of Hezbollah for example, who understood where to put this so called Party of God on the spiral. He immediately realized that their practices are unhealthy Blue, centered in Red with a cover of Orange. This freed him up from dogmatic thinking. This is what Spiral Dynamics integral can do for the rest of the Middle East.
There are next steps for the hero; there are next steps for evolution on the spiral that are beyond Hezbollah or Hamas. I’ve see people transform by creating a habitat for human potential that we developed in order to move these employees forward. I’ve seen transformation in each person, people who unleash their capacities, who unleash their potential. I look at every executive and I see the evolutionary patterns, I’m really amazed. They took it and did something with it.
Russ: What’s the next step in the evolution of Elza Maalouf?
Elza: I’m writing a book. It is directed towards the Arab scene and the Arab revolution. I know this is how I can reach more people. It’s also directed towards Arab countries and what we can do, especially with the Millennial Generation.
Russ: I really appreciate you taking your time to do this interview. From my point of view you are one of the stars of any generation
Elza: I really appreciate that Russ. That’s very humbling and very kind of you. But I see stars everywhere, I see young people who want to do more. They give me, what’s the word I’m looking for?
Russ: Hope, inspiration?
Elza: Yes! They are my inspiration; especially when I see young girls in Syria who can speak English better than the men. They asked for conversational English and for us to send them books. My European colleagues did that. These girls are my inspiration. Here is what I think, Russ: To whom much is given, much is expected. I want to train an army of young Arabs who can be the catalysts for change in their own societies. To give them the tools to create their own institutions, their own style of democracy which would be a hopeful thing to happen. That’s what keeps me going.
What a marvelous revelation about you and your work. If I can help in any way, please let me know.
Roma, You provide the prospective student and other learners with a very rich and self-disclosing website. I particularly liked learning about your teachers and what you found most valuable from each one. Also, I learned a great deal more about your life journey and its richness. Jim
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