This past Sunday, I had a conversation with Don Beck entitled “Hard Truths and a Fresh Start: Facilitating the Flow after the 2014 Midterms.” Don’s work as the co-author of Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership & Change played a major role in the formation of the Integral Movement and many of his theoretical ideas, language, and real world applications were adopted by Ken Wilber and other Integral leaders and have become an important part of the fabric of Integral theoretical thought.
Initially, we were going to focus on the state of the Middle East and the rise of the Islamic State, as I’d recently read two powerfully prescient articles by Don—Hard Truths & Fresh Start: A Bold, Comprehensive, & Integral Strategy for the Middle East, and The Global Great Divide: An Integral Initiative. (Though written a decade ago, they are well worth reading and you can find them here.)
But when we realized we would be talking less than a week after the American mid-term elections, we felt that we should focus on the design of a political and economic pathway forward in the United States following the November 4th election results.
Don said he sees the outcome of the midterms as a lightning bolt illuminating the political and cultural landscape of the US. He says it shines a light on what he is most concerned about in American politics — how our value systems are tending to become rigid, ego-involved, and polarized. When people are polarized, the more contact they have with each other, the more extreme they become. It’s entirely predictable. However, if people are not ego-involved, and highly-partisan, you can’t predict their responses. There is more room for creativity.
He wrote his PhD dissertation on the 1860 presidential election, and how issues were then becoming polarized between North and South regarding Unionism and Slavery. Growing polarization led to the violence and war. In his fantasy, he would like to sit down with Abraham Lincoln and talk about where the country was heading. Not only was it devastating to the country in that time, with 500,000 men and women dying, but it left a legacy of trauma; we’re still dealing with civil war issues.
Don is currently excited about an initiative that asks how we can put racial issues in the rear-view mirror. It’s called the Second Emancipation Proclamation. It’s focused on liberating African Americans from the victimization programming of certain extremist black leaders and white liberals. He feels that blacks have been left behind by a lack of jobs, but primarily by their own leadership. He feels that a whole new sense of semantics is needed to purge our language of the kind of distortions that create our great racial divides and undermine cultural evolution. Many blacks, including athletes, are charged with “acting white” by other more polarized blacks. They are sometimes attacked and accused of being “white” just for academic excellence, for getting “A”s. Something’s wrong there!
Don decried the partisan anger and bitterness that he sees on Facebook and called for putting our memes on the table. He described what he calls a “master code” as the solution for depolarizing cultural or political gridlock. This code recognizes 1) that people have a right to be who they are, and 2) that they don’t have a right to disturb the whole human “tent” under which we all live.
Many listeners wanted to know how all this could be applied and how it could result in real change. Don spoke about how change can come from giving a gentle “nudge” in a healthy direction, not trying to get people to evolve into higher levels, values or vMemes, but helping them change the way they interpret those values. He gave the example of Arab men who would not shake Elza Maalouf’s hand because she’s a woman. (Don’s worked closely with Elza on the Middle East conflict). When Don addressed the meaning of this refusal to shake hands with the men, they expressed the core value of “being a man” in the traditional sense of their culture and religion. It was expressed in other ways too, such as “I won’t be a real man until I get back the key to my grandfather’s house that was seized by the Jews in 1948.” Don didn’t argue with them over the value of “being a real man”; he instead made a “nudge” offering, framing it in this way, “What if you helped create a better educational system for your kids? That’s being a real man.”
Don reemphasized that change doesn’t have to be about drastically changing value systems. It can be changing the beliefs and behaviors related to those value systems. He also pointed to his work with Nelson Mandela and the South African rugby team (dramatized in the film “Invictus” with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon) as a practical example of using sport to integrate differences around a common goal or value.
You can listen to the full dialog here.