I read with interest Bonitta Roy’s generous, intelligent contribution to this site as she credibly condemned the assumptions about evolution that have seized many of the zealous adherents of developmental psychology and philosophy. I was convinced that her argument was true in a variety of ways I’ll only lightly touch upon. I’m also suspicious that her ideas are partial for reasons I want to explore.
First, a meditation of sorts.
Perspective is a mysterious thing. We each look out from our own eyes with thoughts and feelings, impulses, hopes and dreams. We evaluate the actions of others through the lens of these faculties. We examine the truth of a thing according to our values, upbringing, education, faults, follies and intuition. Most of us have firm convictions about the validity of an opinion or the meaning of an event. Our perspective is partial but real and generally worthy of consideration, some more than others to be sure.
We don’t know what’s actually happening in this life on this planet and we don’t know where it’s all going. Not a one of us. The best we can do is proximate based on the evidence and whatever trust we have in our own discernment. That discernment can be sharpened with education, contemplation and passionate engagement in the life process, but the mystery will remain mysterious.
Our collective inquiry into the matter of life keeps uncovering more compelling information. And while new information might reform thoughts and beliefs previously adhered to as true, this doesn’t mean that that prior belief was false any more than the new information is automatically false since it follows that someone will inevitably discover a more compelling truth.
Among the great take-aways of postmodern thought is that context matters and that the truth of a thing is largely context dependent. Einstein didn’t disprove Newton. He deepened, refined and corrected Newton’s partial truths. Newton uncovered profoundly important truths within his life and time, pivoting many of our dogmatic beliefs and grounding our inquiry more firmly in a scientific understanding of the physical and invisible world. Einstein has since been refined and no doubt will be refined further.
This is a journey, as much a collective journey as a singular one. We uncover more insight and information each step of the way. We are creatures of approximation, hungry for more. To be sure, we sometimes veer into cul-de-sacs, where inquiry stalls and positions harden. The many cul-de-sacs of modern and postmodern thought are returning themes of this website.
Whether this journey is a growth to goodness is uncertain at best, but some of our articles have explored how things actually have improved on balance.
While potentially problematic, it can be helpful and important to see this journey, if not as a growth to goodness, than perhaps as a continuum, and realize that the whole of the continuum is populated by large swaths of the human race. Every point of the continuum holds jewels of wisdom to be stashed for purchase on the road ahead. Being skillful means first seeing that life conditions, culture and circumstances scatter people and societies all over that continuum. When a Burmese man is obsessed with feeding his family, he can’t possibly be interested in the words that litter this website. One understands and deals with him differently than one would a college-educated Canadian questioning his place in the universe. And no doubt he holds a jewel of insight to be cherished and held in the mystery.
Here’s my issue with Bonitta’s line of thought, a line of thought I’ve observed in many of the cutting edge theorists that have emerged out the integral community (some of which she names) among the other communities of thought and inquiry out there. No doubt her complex understanding of evolution and development is miles ahead of the simplistic generalizations that get bandied about when people speak broadly in colours or stages. But there is a context - a time, a place and a people - where those generalizations are effective, drive home a point, deepen someone’s understanding, or even dramatically alter a worldview/perspective.
I worry that her complex understanding finds her at or near the top twig sawing off the lower branches so others can’t properly climb.
Though my background is in Education, I make my living as a business consultant, speaking to a business audience about practical matters of organizational effectiveness, change management and talent development. Most of us know that business is a constantly changing dynamic and that business theory has its own cutting edge. When Peter Senge made Systems Theory all the rage in the 90s, business digested that perspective (the dreaded paradigm shift). While systems Theory has since evolved in complexity beyond the practical application of the business world, other evolutions such as emotional intelligence, well-being, sustainability, and social responsibility are entering the mainstream lexicon. There is a developmental intelligence of sorts at work.
Recently I was tasked with writing a business column for Vancouver’s largest daily newspaper. I had a few Beams co-authors edit my first contribution, as we do for the articles on this site. The feedback was mostly positive, but there was some feedback that the content was simplistic, by which I took to mean a prior insight that had largely been debunked by our years of studying these ideas. I tend to agree. I’m often the guy in the room who is uncomfortable speaking in terms of colours because of the vast complexity that is awkwardly consolidated into such generalizations.
But here’s the thing. In the environment I work in, the article was well received. Colleagues were intrigued. The article, originally only for online publication, was printed and picked up by various papers across the country. It wasn’t the best written article, nor did it break evolutionary ground, but it seemed to speak to the audience for which it was written. Hopefully, this is because these ideas when packaged appropriately can loosen fixed perspectives. The piece is certainly worthy of deconstruction when confronted with the body of evidence Bonitta presents, but perhaps it is also, for some people, gracefully simple, digestible and true within the context it appears. That’s a compelling mystery unto itself.
(To be fair to Bonitta, she was writing for a site whose audience in part should be receptive to both the message and the approach.)
In the SUN series I’ll post each article in our Bits & Pieces section and look for feedback from you, my community of the adequate, on the skill and accuracy of how the messages are being delivered. I intend to take these articles gradually deeper (if the paper continues to print them that is) with the intention of challenging my own ability to deliver an accessible product while hopefully deepening the sensibilities of whatever audience is following.
My point, moving back to our mediation, is simply that we really don’t know what on earth is happening. We have evidence and we have our faculties with which to judge. But holding a a certain unknowing and handling our environment with a healthy mixture of curiosity, skill and care is in my opinion the necessary emotional intelligence of a post-postmodern relationship to life, particularly for those who may well be operating at its evolutionary edges.