Beyond Religion: Part 5 – Consciousness and social behavior

Part 4, I argued that consciousness, rather than any religious belief in God, leads to goodness. But what is consciousness and how does it affect social behaviors? The road to greater consciousness Spiritual leaders have long acknowledged that consciousness is not something a few lucky ones possess and the rest don’t. It is a journey open to all. And despite what some preaches, it has nothing to do with believing in religious or esoteric concepts. It is not something one can be taught; it is something one must pursue and experience. There are no gurus to follow or beliefs to adhere too. There are no particular exercises or tests to pass and there are no timeframes or schedule to respect. In fact many people have fairly high level of consciousness without even being aware of it. Consciousness is something one develops and acquires by opening one’s heart, by being in the present, and by connecting ever more deeply with oneself, with others, with nature and with the universe. The ultimate level of consciousness is achieved when one experiences non-dualism or oneness (i.e. enlightenment). Consciousness as social building blocks A number of authors have proposed slightly different models to represent the various stages of consciousness (see Richard Barrett, Ken Wilder, Frédéric Laloux, etc.). They all build on the well-known Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for personal motivation. Maslow used the terms Physiological, Safety, Love/belonging, Esteem, Self-actualization, and Self-transcendence to describe the pattern against which human motivations generally move through. For the last 60 years, Maslow’s work has had a profound impact in the field of psychology and we are only starting to understand that the scope of this work has much broader applicability.

Maslow's Pyramid of Needs
Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs vs. Laloux’s Stages of Consciousness

While our ego continuously pulls our focus inward, consciousness drives it outward. This is why our ego is at its strongest when we are focused on meeting our primary Physiological needs (air/water, food and shelter). As these basic needs are met, the ego recesses and consciousness arise. We become aware of others’ needs and we start caring for them. When attaining the Self-transcendence level, our ego is at the lowest and our consciousness at the highest. Of course, any change in our immediate physiological environment can lead us to temporarily recess to a lower level (negative experience) – or jump to a higher level (positive experience) of consciousness.
Over time, and as their personal/collective ego gets tamed; individuals, societies and organizations move through various stages of consciousness. Each stage relates to how one understands the world and projects oneself into it:

It is helpful to review and understand the difference between these various paradigms (there are higher-levels of consciousness, but these are the ones applicable to our societies). Laloux suggests that every individual, organization and society operates from within one of the above stages. Underground organizations, street gangs and the mafia operates from Impulsive-Red; armies, churches and schools operate from within Conformist-Amber; most business organizations in the Western world operate from within Achievement-Orange; humanitarian and social organizations often operate from Pluralistic-Green; while we are increasingly seeing a new breed of organizations, especially on the web and from the progressive Silicon Valley, that operates from the Evolutionary-Teal paradigm.
Stuck within our own paradigm
Status quo is the norm, as one needs an incentive to open up to a higher stage of consciousness. That’s because each paradigm looks ideal and one sticks to it until that paradigm reveals its limitation through a significant failure. The challenge is that, from any given level, lower levels are seen as unproductive and immature, while higher levels are intimidating, as they require letting go of certainties and control, which make them appear utopic and potentially more chaotic. Special conditions must therefore be met so the urge for a move can be felt. The rewards invariably translate into increased level of trust, confidence and success. As with many other social phenomena, the normal statistical distribution tells us that when approximately 8-12% of a group or population has achieved a higher level of consciousness, a tipping point is reached. That means these forerunners have created the leadership and safe space needed to accelerate the transition of the rest of the group by demonstrating the superiority of the model. Until this critical level is reached, the mass remains skeptic and refuses to follow.
Thankfully, it takes less and less time for individuals and organizations to progress along the different stages of consciousness, as each new stage integrates the experiences from all previous ones. This is why it has taken humankind tens of thousands of years to shift from the Impulsive-Red paradigm to Conformist-Amber; but only a few thousand years of Conformist-Amber before it started experimenting with Achievement-Orange; and then a few hundred years more to start embracing Pluralistic-Green, which is only decades away from Evolutionary-Teal. As the move from Conformist-Amber to Achievement-Orange is already well under way around the world, there is real hope that the bulk of humanity can embrace Evolutionary-Teal within just a few generations. We can feel the urge for global consciousness and we are already witnessing many successful Evolutionary-Teal organizations, with the Internet serving as an amazing accelerator.
Later stages, not always better
Laloux insists that every stage of consciousness has its shadows (i.e. weaknesses) and that the later “stages” are not necessarily “better”:

“We get into trouble when we believe that later stages are ‘better’ than earlier stages; a more helpful interpretation is that they are ‘more complex’ ways of dealing with the world. For instance, a person operating from a Pluralistic-Green perspective can integrate people’s conflicting perspectives in a way that a person operating from Impulsive-Red most likely cannot.”[1]

An individual or organization operating in Evolutionary-Teal might therefore still consider a Conformist-Amber action if it proves to be the best option given the situation at hand. Another important notion to keep in mind when working with these concepts is that these stages are far from exclusive and are often found coexisting within the same individual or organization. In this case, the resulting center of gravity revolves around a particular level/color. For instance, and despite progressive Scandinavia partially operating from Pluralistic-Green, Achievement-Orange is unarguably the dominating color of the West while Conformist-Amber continues to dominate in the rest of the world.
As it will become more apparent in my next post, this valuable knowledge helps us apprehend social realities with much greater insight. For instance, by mapping these stages of consciousness to the questions of living together, one can better understand how the post World War II Pluralistic-Green intelligencia[2], in a desire to exorcise itself from the dark Conformist-Amber colonialist and fascist periods, has since been operating under the assumption that all cultures were of equal value in the face of human kind. As such, they have elevated the celebration of cultural diversity to the pinnacle of bienseance, sometimes closing the eyes when the fundamental values of freedom, equality and dignity are being transgressed.
As Laloux underlines:

“… this [Pluralistic-Green] stage has its obvious contradictions. It insists that all perspectives be treated equally and finds itself stuck when others abuse its tolerance to putting forward intolerant ideas.”[3]

By refusing to draw a line in the sand and by allowing Conformist-Amber cultures to perpetuate practices that really deserve to be reprimanded, the Pluralistic-Green paradigm has contributed to maintaining Conformist-Amber leaders in place, and has been fostering the ghettoization and failed integration of a fringe portion of the population; with the inevitable resentment and marginalization that ensued.
It is therefore critical that leaders be aware of these various stages as they lead people; organizations and societies. In the next post, we will explore how analyzing social behaviors by mapping them through their stage of consciousness can help us better understand how to deal with them.

[1] Laloux, Frédéric. 2014. Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness. p. 37
[2] While useful for sake of readability, it is always hazardous to label individuals or organizations as “Green”, “Orange”, etc. as one can only be found to be operating from a given dominant paradigm at a particular point in time.
[3] Laloux, Frédéric. 2014. Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness. p. 31