Vertical Development

Overcoming Complex Paradoxes to Rebuild Trust

I assumed we could trust the government and each other during the pandemic. I was wrong.
I am hopeful that our government will have our best interest. I am hopeful that things will get better.

I want to trust institutions like the CDC, my governor, my mayor and the White House. I want these institutions to put the needs of all Americans in front of the desires of CEOs to make more money.

Like my mother, I want our leaders and our communities to work past their flaws and do what’s best for us all. They don’t need to be perfect. They just need to be better.

The problem with this statement is that it assumes everyone is perceiving reality in the same way. It should be clearly evident by now, based upon all of the conflicts arising around how best to handle the pandemic, that we are not perceiving reality in the same way. Therefore, my “needs” and what I perceive as “what’s best for all” may be completely different than yours, even contradictory.

While this may be exceeding difficult for a lot of people to comprehend, it’s a basic premise of vertical development in that people psychologically develop at different stages and therefore their needs and what they value will differ from others at different stages.

Even more so, when levelling up to a new stage, a person’s perspective of reality often goes through a paradigm shift, causing it to radically pivot or u-turn 180 degrees, thus seeming almost contradictory to their perspective before.

For example, one of the most dominant paradigm shifts that people go through as they move beyond the conventional stages of development is perceiving their livelihood of work as so important, it gets put above everything else. This is because conventional stages focus on trying to meet our basic needs to survive.

While this might seem to make perfect sense, since we obviously need to make money to survive, where this starts causing conflicts is when our livelihood of work starts literally impacting our life. Some examples of this could be a blue collar worker working in a toxic factory with chemicals or a white collar worker working in a toxic culture due to a narcissistic boss. In both cases, these people are literally having their lives cut short by their livelihoods.

When we take this understanding and raise it to a societal level though, that’s when conflicts really start getting heated. You effectively have people at conventional stages saying their needs to have a job are more important than how that job affects them or others. So when a climate activist tells a coal or gas worker that their industry is killing people and the planet, that worker can literally not comprehend what the activist is talking about, even thinking that they are delusional because their livelihood is effectively their life and it comes first.

We’re also seeing the same thing happening with the pandemic but in a slightly different way. Again conventional stages focus on survival by meeting their economic needs but also by wanting to fit in and belong in a social sense. So not only is the pandemic making it difficult to meet their economic needs due to work faltering but it’s making it difficult for people to meet their needs of belonging because they can’t work face-to-face with others.

For a lot of people at conventional stages, this can be overwhelming for them, making them feel like they are being pulled apart, because they may recognize the severity of the life challenge before them (ie the pandemic can kill people) but they also recognize that their basic needs need to be met as well. To get around and ease the discomfort of having to deal with two conflicting beliefs, the person will change one of their beliefs or add another belief to outweigh one. So an anti-vaxxer will disbelieve that the coronavirus is harmful to them because they’re healthy, thus easing this psychological tension and discomfort that they’re feeling.

So is the answer just to force people at conventional stages to just “shut up and do what their told” because they don’t have the awareness and psychological maturity to understand the complexity of the wicked problems arising in our world today (similar to a child being unable to comprehend complicated things)? I don’t think it’s an easy answer because you have to look at the world we’ve made and how it’s contributing to and amplifying the problem.

Simply put, conventional stages normally do “trust” their leaders and institutions, doing what they’re told to do. But today we’re living in a world where many people at conventional stages are having their basic needs continually eroded by society itself. For example, blue collar work has degraded and disappeared over the decades, with steel and automotive industries once being the backbone of work, yet they’ve almost completely disappeared now.

Today we have many people who are often homeless and without jobs, thus unable to meet their economic needs, but also they are devalued by society as having no value, and thus they aren’t meeting their needs of belonging either. No wonder these conventional people don’t feel like “trusting” institutional leaders who effectively have made them feel like outcasts in their own country and society.

So it’s not a question so much of forcing people at conventional stages to “shut up and do what their told” but rather more about we need our leaders to seriously level up, so they can start seeing and recognizing the value of these people where they are at (at their level). For example, in Alberta, a province primarily focused on oil and gas, new geothermal stations are being built that make use of the existing skills of oil and gas rig workers to build them.

This is amazing because it helps people at conventional stages to shift to newer but familiar work that still makes them feel valued and belonging to a society that still cares about them and their contributions to it. And that in turn will make them feel like they can trust the leaders who are valuing and caring for them. I mean isn’t this the same crisis in our business world right now, with people feeling disposable and without any long term value, thus why should they be loyal or trust business leaders who aren’t loyal and caring in return?

By Nollind Whachell

Questing to translate Joseph Campbell's Hero’s Journey into The Player’s Handbook for the roleplaying game called Life, thus making vertical (leadership) development an accessible, epic framework for everyone.

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