Collapse as an Opportunity for Growth

4th April 2013

By Gary Stamper, Ph.D.

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

Not too long ago, I was having a conversation with a friend who was telling me that it seemed everything in his life was falling apart: His work no longer challenged him and had turned into a “job,” he and his wife were arguing a lot, and that he was feeling helpless and hopeless around politics and the economy, and the way things seemed to unfolding on the planet. “That’s great,” I replied!

“Great? Are you listening,” he asked? Oh, yes… I was listening.

“You see,” I explained, “these challenges are signs that we need to change something in our lives. And more, they are opportunities for growth.” In his case, there are several opportunities for him to improve his life: to look for and find more meaningful work, to either work on and improve his marriage or to move on, and to discover how he could shift his perspective around what’s happening on the planet.

The question for him – and all of us – is how do we do that?

I believe that once we understand the mechanics and processes of change, it’s easier for us to actually effect the change we want to see in ourselves and in the world. In addition, understanding how change occurs by the use of certain models gives us a common language that allows us to talk about the process of awakening in a much deeper context.

What my friend is experiencing is what is sometimes known as “disorienting dilemmas,” or cognitive dissonance: Cognitive dissonance arises when we are exposed to conflicting beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors that clash with each other. An example of my friend’s disorienting dilemma was his belief that he should be happy in his marriage but wasn’t. These situations can produce extreme discomfort, eventually leading us to alter one of the attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors which then reduces the discomfort and helps restore balance in our life.

Sometimes a powerful motive to maintain cognitive dissonance – protecting our conflicting ideas or beliefs – can lead to irrational and sometime manipulative behaviors.

This process not only happens with individuals, couples, families, and organizations. On the macro level, this process sometimes causes complete shifts in worldviews of societies, cultures, and even the planet.

Many developmental systems recognize that new worldviews have emerged only a handful of times in our history. In in the order of their emergence, they are archaic, magic, mythic, modern, and postmodern.

The developmental model I use in my men’s workshops is Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi). Spiral Dynamics is a model developed in the last half of the twentieth century by Clare W. Graves, who was a professor of Psychology at Union College in Schenectady, New York. The model identifies seven stages of development, with six stages emerged, a seventh in the process of emerging, and a couple more beyond being speculated about.

The seven stages are, in order, survival, tribal, power, authoritarian, achievement, relativistic, and holistic. In western culture, we can identify three primary stages: authoritarian, achievement, and relativistic, with some elements of survival, tribal, and power stages, and an emerging holistic stage.

Each of these worldviews – or stages – is based on how people think as opposed to what they think, why people make decisions in different ways, why people respond to different motivators, why and how values rise and spread, and seeks to answer questions about the nature of change.

Historically, new cultural stages emerge only when the previous worldviews can no longer solve the new problems that arise. When a new stage emerges, it is a response to the Albert Einstein quote, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Ironically, each new emerging stage is also more complex than the previous one, which then creates an entirely new set of problems.

What does this have to do with Collapse as an Opportunity for Growth?

We’re in the middle of one of these cultural shifts. The last one was in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Yes, what was sometimes referred to as “the Age of Aquarius,” was a tipping point of the rise of a new way of thinking and some of the cultural manifestations were getting in touch with our feelings, egalitarianism, sharing and caring, community, equal rights for all, harmony and love.

Previous to the ‘60’s, the last stage to emerge was about 300 years ago and was called “the Enlightenment,” and has continued into the industrial revolution and what is called postmodernism and scientific rationalism. The Enlightenment arose as a response to the pathologies that developed in the previous stage that gave us the dark ages.

We are now in the midst of another cultural shift, moving some people into the holistic – or integral – worldview, and the move from one worldview to another is marked, as we learned earlier, by disorienting dilemmas and a lot of cognitive dissonance. We see this cognitive dissonance all around us. It is marked by the many failing systems that are no longer serving us; energy, environment, economics are the big three, but it’s also government, politics, education, and a lot more.

New cognitive dissonance is happening around the Cyprus banking system. The EU and the IMF are trying to take the money of savers to pay for the banking shareholders’ greed. We’ve been told all our adult lives that our money in banks is safe, insured. Suddenly, that may not be true. So how do you protect what you’ve earned? If it can happen in Cyprus, can it happen where you are? How does thinking about this shift your perspective regarding the banking system?

Working through the cognitive dissonance and systemic failures all around us is about creating new ways of doing things, changing our behaviors, and creating our new story. Thomas Berry, a Catholic Priest, cultural historian and cosmologist said:

“It’s all a question of story. We are in trouble just now because we are in-between stories. The Old Story – the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it – sustained us for a long time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purpose, energized action, consecrated suffering, integrated knowledge, and guided education. We awoke in the morning and knew where we were. We could answer the questions of our children.

But now it is no longer functioning properly, and we have not yet learned the New Story.”

Moving into later-stage consciousness requires the ability to learn a new story. See, experience, and assume as many perspectives as possible. In fact, this ability to hold multiple perspectives, even when they are seemingly opposed to one another—or paradoxical—is one of the hallmarks of the holistic stage. Being able to see and accept multiple perspectives is key to understanding why so many people seem so irrationally diametrically opposed to each other. One of the ways to develop the ability to hold differing perspectives is to expand our understanding of why people have differing opinions on so many subjects, lessening our cognitive dissonance.

As throughout history, it is precisely the failure of the existing systems that allows the emergence of the new, and it is clear that the current systems are failing and yet, the systems and the people who control them are not the enemy. To quote the great philosopher Pogo, “we have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Neale Donald Walsh, author of the nine-book series, Conversations with God, says, “The world is in serious trouble, if what humans choose is to continue their present lifestyle on this planet. There is a way out of this trouble, but the solution to the world’s problems is not political, it is not economic, and it is not military. The solution is spiritual, because the problem is spiritual. That is, it has to do with what human beings believe. Beliefs, the books tell us, create behaviors. You cannot change behaviors over the long run without altering the beliefs that underlie them. The one-word solution is Education. In two words, Spiritual Education. In four words, A New Cultural Story. We have to tell a new story to ourselves about ourselves. We have to tell a new story to ourselves about each other. And we have to tell a new story to ourselves about God.”

It is only this New Cultural Story that will allow us to create new ways of doing things, new ways of being in the world, with ourselves, each other, and the planet, and offers us the possibility of our survival as a species. As we move through the cognitive dissonance, trying to create a new planet, we all become cynics, thinking only this or that will save us. If only conservatives would wake up. If only liberals would stop trying to give everything away. If only Wall Street and the banks were punished. If only this, if only that. Politics, energy, environment, the global economy, corporations, greed, GMO’s, and on and on…. all symptoms of a bigger problem: Our failure to realize that we are all connected and that we all go through stages that separate us, but that in truth, we are not separate: we are one.

About the author

Gary Stamper is the nationally acclaimed creator and facilitator of the Integral Warrior men’s workshop series and the author of “Awakening the new Masculine: The Path of the Integral Warrior.” He holds a PhD in shamanic psychospiritual studies, is an ordained Shamanic Minister, a Certified Level II Reiki Practitioner and a Certified Shamanic Breathworkâ„¢ facilitator. He also has a certificate in “Generating Transformative Change in Human Systems” from Seattle’s Pacific Integral and is the founder and administrator of the new website and forum, Collapsing into Consciousness.

He currently lives in Western North Carolina.


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  • Sue Coxon

    It’s an interesting theory, my only point of discussion would be whether the whole of last century wasn’t a slow shifting state of towards a changed cultural and social perspective which is reaching an ever more finite point of no return… Maybe finally crossing the threshold marked by Huxley’s Doors?