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In this episode Joel and Antonia unpack more nuances about the different levels of the Graves Model Spiral Dynamics.

In this podcast you’ll find:

  • Article on Graves model
  • The Graves model is a vertical model. It tracks growth and development up n’ down.
  • Horizontal models – typology, MBTI, Enneagram. The assumption is that we are all at the same level of development but different from each other.
  • Graves Model is incredibly powerful. It can be used for anything. Individuals, societies, humanity as a whole, religions, corporations, etc.
  • The thing this model measures at the end of the day is perception or world view.
  • As you move up the model, you take in more territory.
  • As a child, your whole world is your family. Then as you grow your territory expands to include your religion, or classroom, or school. As you grow, you can take in more territory until you perceive that there is a whole world out there.
  • Certain insights come with each expansion of territory.
  • Graves has numeric designations. Starting with 1 and going to 8.
  • In spiral dynamics, each level has a color to indicate that no level is empirically better than any other.
  • The best level is the one that matches the circumstance.
  • Level 1 (Beige): Survival. Just surviving from one day to the next. Not much awareness. Undifferentiated. Not much difference between you and reality. You are the reality. As a society, we haven’t been at this level for tens of thousands of years. As an individual, this represents infancy.
  • Level 2 (Purple): Tribal. Extended family. Everyone works together to help the group survive. There is safety in numbers, as long as everyone stays within the tribe.
  • Level 3 (Red): Warlord. Differentiating ego from the tribe and wanting to be top dog. Realizing a better life can be had by taking what you want.
  • Level 4 (Blue): Civilization. Part of something bigger. Allegiance. Assimilation.
  • Level 5 (Orange): Capitalism. Wants to accumulate resources for itself. Sees life as a game it can win.
  • Level 6 (Green): Community. Create harmony. See the world as a community. Working together for the greater good.
  • Level 7 (Yellow): Seven starts the second tier. Seven is like 1 in that it is about survival, but instead of individual survival, it is about global survival.
  • Level 8 (Turquoise): Looks a little like tribal 2, but it is bigger in that it wants to take in the world community as its tribe.
  • Spiral Dynamics is a life changing model!
  • Nine times out of 10 whenever conflict occurs in the world, it is about different graves levels colliding.
  • Most people are not the pure form of a particular level. We usually look like a couple of different levels. But we will have a preference.
  • Our minds, thoughts, and understanding of the world are very nimble. When it comes to how we behave we are limited by the world we are experiencing.
  • There are parts of us that are more advanced than other parts.
  • You may long to be an entrepreneur (Level 5) but are stuck in a day job (Level 4).
  • Each level looks different depending on if you are just entering, exiting, or exploring.
  • What does it look like when you are straddling two levels?
  • Why do we go from one level to the next?
  • What are we experiencing when we level up?
  • Level 1: Survival – The child doesn’t understand that there is anyone separate from self.
    • Homeless people can also fall into this level.
  • Level 2: Tribal – “I can now survive on my own accord, but if I join with others I can accomplish more.”
    • The person experiences a sense of childlike wonder and fear during this time.
    • Lots of magic thinking that happens with children around this time – 3 or 4 years of age – monsters under the bed, Easter Bunny, etc.
    • Macro level – shamanistic thinking, superstition.
    • Cause and effect thinking.
    • There is greater openness which allows for greater insight.
    • In a family atmosphere where there are antagonism and fighting, Level 2 can create a solution: “I will protect you no matter what because you are part of me and we are safer if we draw together.”
  • In it’s prime, level 2 is all about group survival. There is fear, mysticism, and a sense of powerlessness.
  • As 2 moves to 3, it is yearning to break free of the fear. A desire to individuate self and improve life with action instead of superstition.
  • Early in level 3, teenagers go from believing they need permission from their parents for everything to realizing they can choose to do their own thing without permission.
    • They start pushing their will onto reality.
    • It can look like frustration, rebellion, resistance, etc.
    • There is still some fear when entering 3 (like breaking curfew while fearing the repercussions when you get home).
    • Being fully in 3 looks like pushing your reality onto the world and building things. Impressive feats can happen during level 3.
    • Macro – taking whatever you want through whatever means is within your power.
    • Religions changed from the movement from level 2 to 3.
      • 2 is very animistic – worshipping sun, moon, nature, etc.
      • 3 is about worshipping deities. Still some animism (Anubis with animal/human characteristics). More egocentric, human-oriented belief structure.
    • Authoritarian structure. Very little respect for life. Level 2 has a lot of respect for life because there is safety within the tribe.
    • Towards the end of 3, there is a burgeoning sense that taking is not sustainable, or enjoyable.
    • 3 in its prime believes, “I am in control of my environment.”
    • There isn’t any reciprocity of liberation. Some enjoy liberation. Others remain slaves.
  • Early 4 starts feeling guilt for the sins of 3.
    • It sees the need to clean up its act and play nicer with fellow humans. It’s hard for a 3 to sit with the full extent of what they have done.
    • Most developed countries are in 4 or 5.
    • When someone more mature goes to 4, he/she usually can’t sit with the guilt of the things done in 3. So they push it off on others.
    • A very judgmental time of life. You now blame everything you’ve done on society. Very preachy.
    • Level Four looks to infrastructure to create the control. Gov’t. Democracy. Collective governance. Compromise.
    • Fours now have to play nice. Any dissent means regression to level 3, so there is a lot of judgment to maintain the collective consciousness.
    • Identity is wrapped up in the institution.
    • Truth vs. Truth – bully out the guilt.
    • The need to join with people who only agree to reinforce their world view.
      • A large percentage of the population is still at levels 3 and 4, as shown by the plethora of Facebook arguments as each side insists on their own world view.
      • Us vs. Them.
    • Level 4 at its height finds peace and solace in being part of something bigger. Building together to benefit everyone.
      • Level 3 – Egyptian pyramids were tombs for top dogs. Useless structures.
      • Level 4 – Roman road system and aqueducts. Useful to all.
    • Level 4 values the process more than the result. The end does not justify the means.
    • Late four looks like someone who is working hard to get ahead and create luxury. More action. Work is intrinsically rewarding.
  • Going from 2 to 3 is a result of frustration.
  • Frustration also moves people from 4 to 5. Tired of committee meetings. Wanting to break out of the mold and create the life they want.
    • Early five can be unsophisticated. Very in your face. Forcing things to happen.
    • The poor little rich kid stereotype is usually a child from a parent straddling 4 and five who never learned to put work in its proper place.
    • Mid Level 5 comes with the finesse and flexibility that wasn’t available in 4.
    • Fives use a lot of experimentation, new technology, new business approaches, etc. The seek the best way to get to the desired result.
    • Level 5 Shifts from process to results.
    • “Great leaders don’t do things right; they do the right things.”
    • Level 5s often open bank accts in the Caymans to hold onto their resources.
    • It is easy to demonize five because it can be exploitative.
    • Modern science is firmly in 5.
  • When someone doesn’t like a level, they see only the bad aspects. But every level has good and bad about it.
  • We are quick to demonize people at certain levels when they are doing the thing that is appropriate to their level.
  • If you are in a level, the goal is to push yourself to the most ethical expression of that level.
  • When you have a healthy expression of one level, it is natural to want to move to the next level.
  • Higher levels are usually the right tool to solve the challenges of the previous levels.
  • The only time a level isn’t right is when someone has the life conditions to be at a higher level, and they are keeping themselves at a lower level.
  • At the end of 5, people start experiencing the loneliness of constant competition and emptiness of collecting many things and realizing it doesn’t mean anything.
  • A desire for community reemerges. A sense of duty and reevaluation of exploitative tendencies.
  • When you enter 6 your community becomes more than just a tribe; it expands to a global community.
    • Early six still have some rule oriented behavior at the beginning. The sense of wanting to change the world.
    • Six becomes Judgmental of people who are judgmental.
    • Six is open to worldviews that are open worldviews.
    • Reconnection and getting back to a sense of why we are here.
    • Graves 6 gets a core level sense of how interconnected and systemic everything is.
    • People start to revisit concepts that are less scientific and more esoteric.
    • Six massively identifies with the idea of harmony and community. Many sixes create communes or new technologies in Silicon Valley.
    • Relativism – open ended, not black and white truth.
    • Exploring etymologies.
    • It is financially Expensive to open up to the new paradigms and experiences that 6 craves.
    • 6 requires an accumulation of resource to fully experience the things it wants to explore. That’s why its convenient that it follows on the resource building stage of level 5. If enough resource wasn’t created in level 5, however, it can be frustrating.
    • Our culture self-diagnosis as six because we have a lot of 6 influences in our culture right now.
    • If you have found a technology that is associated with 6 and you believe it is the solution for all humanity, you are probably not 6.
    • One of the definitions of 6 is your openness to new frameworks.
    • 6 understands that ecosystems require different things to prosper.
    • They will get passionate about something, but if they are too dogmatic about anything – if that one thing is the only thing – it is level 4. Dogmatism lives at 4.
      • Openness lives at 6.
      • 5 teaches flexibility.
  • Towards the end of 6, what happens?
    • What happened at the end of 2 and 4?
    • The desire to break free.
    • Frustration at the inability to get the goals accomplished.
    • Everything has to go through the commune and only be passed by consensus.
    • You want the best for humanity, but nothing is happening because you have to wait for everyone to feel in alignment.
    • Fours buy in structurally.
    • Sixes buy in emotionally – collectively.
  • When people get to level 6, they go back and revisit earlier levels to make sure they got all the lessons from the previous levels.
    • Sixes may collect tribal representations if they need to revisit level two due to a lack of early familial support. Joel had to go back to 3 because he had never explored it fully before.
  • When you enter 7 one of the first feelings you experience is a sense of fearlessness. All the earlier levels with their fixations become meaningless.
    • Tribal is meaningless.
    • Ego is meaningless.
    • Identity with the group is meaningless.
    • Capitalism is meaningless.
    • Community cohesion is meaningless.
    • All these things don’t matter anymore.
    • Nothing holds you back.
    • Seven can become very impatient with humanity.
      • “Flex flow.”
    • Relativism gives way to context.
    • When people enter six, you take on all the problems of the world, which can be overwhelming.
    • Seven focuses on human survival as a duty rather than an ideal.
    • You start to tap into ego transcendence and realize that your demise isn’t the end of the world.
    • Your mortality creates a sense of urgency to set humanity on the right course during our short life.
  • We want to help you identify where you are in this model.
  • When we first hear of this model we have a tendency to give ourselves a 2 level bump. A level four may think they are level 6.
  • Typically we surround ourselves with people of like minds, but occasionally we are around individuals who are on a different graves level.
  • The world is becoming increasingly more complex, and our challenges are outpacing our ability to solve them.
  • The world is going to need more 7.
  • 7 is the period of problem-solving on a global level. Increased sophistication in understanding how things work and a lack of attachment to being right.
  • We may synthetically keep ourselves at a lower level because we are afraid to lose something – identity, safety, people, relationships, etc.
  • If you find yourself ready to go to the next level, don’t hold yourself back.
  • Only a few people have made it to 7. Clare Graves self-diagnosed as level 4.
  • If you want to see yourself as seven, it is not helpful to see yourself there if you aren’t there.
  • Be modest. Be realistic.
  • Each level has lessons that are necessary to your growth and development. Don’t rush it. Don’t keep yourself in one place. Let it happen organically.
  • Where do your find yourself on this model?
  • Which level are you entering? Leaving? Or exploring?
  • Has this helped you understand the people in your life?
  • Can you see how it could explain the evolution of entire societies?

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  • Rumrum
    • Rumrum
    • January 28, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    Has anyone spoke on how spiral dynamic levels relate to the health development levels (across types) in the enneagram?

  • Dan
    • Dan
    • October 11, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    Actually, the Graves theory is quite explicit that people can just as easily regress if the life conditions change in such a way as to stimulate a downshift. Use of the word stratified is instructive. Yes, this system is more about socio-economic stratification as an ‘effect’ of way that individuals and groups react to prevalent Life Conditions through a psycho-biological response, yet stratification does not imply static.

    Think of the high-flying ORANGE/Level 5 Wall Street banker who looses his job and instead of moving into a GREEN reconnection with humanity, caring for people in community, cannot shake the one-up-manship mastered in ORANGE. He may well end up on the street, living a Beige/RED life of survival.

    This happens all the time is less dramatic ways.

    Spiral Dynamics is a dynamic theory of development which, though it articulates the primary action of vertical movement toward complexity, there is nothing absolute about one’s place on that spiral.

    I would suggest that the idea of an order of paradigmatic passages which demarcate levels of attainment that one is unlikely to regress from is more along the lines of BLUE/orange thinking: that things are in their rightful place and closer to some inherently truthful order.

    Key points are that chaos and order are the yin/yang given, movement goes out/in (horizontal changes of the 1st through 4th variation) and up/down (vertical change of the 5 through 7).

  • FriendlySpock
    • FriendlySpock
    • March 28, 2017 at 11:34 am

    That’s interesting. I wonder if Elon Musk is a level 7 in this model? From reading about his life, he worded the ventures he had as what would change humanity as a whole and went for it. Clean energy? Created Tesla electric cars. Try to find a back up place for humanity in case of world war disaster? Trying to put people on damn Mars. With a damn widely assecible spaceship for everyone the size of a goddamn skyscraper. Haha. Checklist to change the world. Check. Check. Check. He’s one of those people I admire most and it’s interesting to see how he might fit into the model.

    Can you guys give me a list of famous people who are at Graves level 7? I wish I could research those people. Must be pretty amazing people. I’d appreciate people of different levels I could read biographies of but it’s okay if you can’t.

    Thank you for giving this out. I kept double checking if I was really level 4 since you said people tend to give themselves a level two bonus in their self assessment. But I figured I’m being way too modest like I tend to be. I really relate to the emotions of frustration with accomplishment in late 5 and early 6 of idealism, tolerance and going back to the previous lessons. It really brought an amazing clarity on what’s been changing.

  • Charis Branson
    • Charis Branson
    • February 3, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    That’s an interesting observation, RC. I’m sure we can find some similarities. But I think the Chakra system, like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (as mentioned in the Chakra podcast), is more fluid. Our Chakras can go from healthy to unhealthy and back again, repeatedly throughout our life. Whereas the Graves Model is more stratified. You might have to revisit previous levels if you didn’t experience them to their full, but once you fully leave a level and move to the next you aren’t as likely to revisit it as you would with the Chakras or Maslow’s Needs. In fact, once someone has learned all the lessons in a given Graves level and moved on, they usually find previous levels rather distasteful.

  • RC
    • RC
    • February 3, 2017 at 10:46 am

    This runs quite parallel to the chakra theory. Your podcast on chakras considers the energy perspective. There are those who theorize on how this manifests in human behaviour, on the assumption that not everyone can freely access all the levels of chakras, rather you develop much in the same way as the Graves model. The two systems run in parallel as models of development. What say?

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