Some years ago, I took a series of courses in Boulder called Higher Alignment, put together by a man named Larry Byram. It’s a fascinating course, and a lot of the insights I gained in the course form some of the bedrock under my relationship with Marta, my wife.
I want to talk about just one of these concepts, which Larry calls World View. Larry likes sevens — nearly all of his categories have seven distinct types or stages, and world view is no exception. Unlike most of his categories, world view is a progression — that is, it isn’t a “type,” like the Myers-Briggs INTP or ESFJ “personality type.” Each person can potentially pass through all seven World View stages in the course of a lifetime. While the age for any transition is highly variable, the progression itself is not; that is, it would be rare for anyone to skip a stage entirely, or to run through them in a different order, for reasons that will become obvious. However, it’s very possible for a person to become stuck at any stage and stop progressing, which results in certain consequences.
Let’s run through these briefly.
Stage one is Survival. Most people pass through this stage by the age of two or three. Survival stage does not really recognize people as “people,” but instead sees them as functions: food source, diaper changer, tear-wiper, bedtime-story-teller.
A person who remains stuck in Survival into adulthood typically ends up living on the street, begging for sustenance from people who aren’t really people at all, in their view, but vending machines or dangerous beasts. Remaining stuck in Survival could be viewed as a failure to thrive.
Stage two is Safety/Security. Most people pass out of this stage by age five to twelve. People are now viewed in terms of safe/not-safe, us/them, good/bad. A typical image of this is the four-year-old hiding behind Mommy’s skirts.
A person who remains stuck in Safety/Security into adulthood tends to view the world in black-and-white terms, as good guys and bad guys, with simple right/wrong solutions. They respect authority absolutely, and view relationships hierarchically. Life is about avoiding threats, or overcoming them with force.
Stage three is Outer Success. Most people pass out of this stage in the late teens or early adulthood. People are now viewed as an audience. A typical image of this is the boastful sixteen-year-old “faking it” or “showing off.”
A person who remains stuck in Outer Success can be easily recognized in the obnoxiously shallow “successful” person, who measures worth by the speed of his car, the size of her house, the bustline of his trophy wife, the size of her wedding ring. These are, of course, stereotypes, but this is a stage obsessed with stereotypes: distinguishing between the “cool” and the “not cool” is at the very heart of Outer Success.
Stage four is Relationship. Quite a few people never leave this stage, but when they do, it’s generally in the mid to late forties. People are now viewed as individuals, and as potential romantic partners. A typical image of this is a young parent in a child-rearing family, or young metrosexuals hooking up; but it also applies to any kind of one-on-one relationship, such as child-parent, or close adult friendships.
A person who remains stuck in Relationship, if they have stumbled into a really supportive and stable couplehood, can live out a happy life — at least until the relationship ends, either because the other person dies, or decides to move on. At that point, a person stuck in the Relationship stage may simply crumble, or they may be driven to find another partner, often younger, perpetually trying to recapture that sense of young love. Or they may become bitter, and simultaneously desperate and reluctant to trust.
Stage five is Inner Success. Most people who make it to this stage never leave it; if they do, it may be in their sixties or seventies. This is the point at which “I” become clearly visible to myself: “people” includes oneself. A typical response to this stage is what my wife says about her fiftieth birthday, when she told herself, “I have arrived.”
This is the point Carl Jung referred to as “shadow integration,” recognizing and accepting all the things in yourself that you pushed away in order to “grow up.” These can be dark things, like a temper or childhood abuse memories, but they can also be bright things, like an artistic talent or an interest in mathematics — the shadow is anything suppressed for the sake of whatever was expected of you as an adult.
Inner Success brings a kind of balanced self-sufficiency, without the driving need for that Magic Someone in your life. Many people who reach this point give up on “relationships” entirely and buy a dog. If they do later engage with another person, it’s generally not based on needs being met, but on full lives being shared. The term “self-actualized” is sometimes used for this stage. Because most people who make it this far stop here, it’s not really appropriate to talk about getting “stuck.”
Stage six is Personality Integration. Not a lot of people move into this stage, and even fewer leave it. This is the point at which community becomes visible as an extension of oneself. People in this stage can be clearly seen as community elders and supporters, whether the “community” is an extended family, a church, a club, or an entire city.
Note that this is very different from community leaders who are in the game because it makes them feel safe, or because it is a mark of success and opportunity, or because it’s expected of them. These are instead the people who are willing to give to the community, because as they see it, giving to the community is giving to themselves. When you see this in anyone under sixty — and it happens — it is something extraordinary.
This is the point at which contrasexual integration is generally necessary, because if you are man, you need to be able to see the women in your community as reflections of yourself, and vice versa for the woman. Every man has an “inner woman” — every woman has an “inner man” — every other kind of sexual being has an “inner other.” To see others in the community as oneself requires that you transcend that sexual model, as well as any other fixed roles that exist mixed-up within the community, such as class, race, or religion: hence, the term Personality Integration.
Again, getting “stuck” in this stage is a misnomer, since most people who get here at all, stay here.
Stage seven is World Service. Very few people move into this stage, and usually have extraordinary character, or are shaped by extraordinary events. This is the point at which one’s community becomes the entire world, and the world is a reflection of oneself. It is the point where “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” becomes “do unto others as if they were you, because they are.” We generally recognize people who work consistently in this stage as saints of one sort or another.
It’s worth looking at some of the transitions that mark the passage from one stage to another, because they tend to be more abrupt and identifiable than the stages themselves.
Moving from Survival to Safety/Security generally coincides with a child learning abstract boundaries: don’t touch, don’t put that in your mouth, don’t go outside at night, don’t talk to strangers. A child in the Survival stage doesn’t understand boundaries — a child in Safety/Security does, and while they’ll test the boundaries to make sure they are still there, they do this because it is terrifying to be on the wrong side of the boundary.
Moving from Safety/Security to Outer Success is marked by the beginnings of conscious risk-taking behavior outside the safe boundaries, as well as the onset of “peer pressure.” A child in Safety/Security looks to his parents for approval — a child in Outer Success looks to her audience of peers.
The move from Outer Success to Relationship is marked by the discovery of romance and deep friendship. I particularly remember watching a bunch of young folks in the airport, flying to Cancun for a wedding, all in their early 20’s. It was very easy to spot the one young woman in Relationship stage: she was very “into” her man, touching him, listening to him, wanting to be noticed by him. He, however, was still in Outer Success, sitting with his back to her, talking loudly and showing off for the audience of his peers, all of whom were just as busy trying to look good in front of everyone else.
The move from Relationship to Inner Success is pretty much the essence of the so-called mid-life crisis. From the outside, it looks terrible. And sometimes, irrecoverable blunders are made, and mid-life crisis is terrible. But more often, it is a time of true blooming, freedom, and expansion of the spirit, which is why it can be so devastating to Relationship stability. A common response of the person who is still in Relationship stage while their partner is transitioning to Inner Success is, “I don’t know you any more.” That’s an accurate perception.
The transition from Inner Success to Personality Integration is not something I’ve experienced (yet), but it’s marked by the appearance of passion for community service or social responsibility that is more than just joining a homeowner’s board or the PTA. We’ve all seen this: these are the people who pull a community together, because they see the community as something worth pulling together.
Now, the reason all this came up — apart from discussing it at Dragonfest in the context of many of our group feeling a growing internal push into Personality Integration — was a posting on Facebook that took me to Andrew W. K.’s blog, and the article “My Dad Is A Right-Wing Asshole.”
I liked Andrew’s answer, though it was too long (as if I have any right to complain about that, ever). But just scolding someone and telling them to “humanize” the assholes in their life is not actually very helpful. I find that I usually have to understand the assholes, first.
This is where this concept of World View comes in very handy, because it’s very easy to see that many, if not most assholes are just people who have gotten themselves wedged — they’re stuck in a World View that isn’t at all charming at their age. It’s especially painful when it’s your parents who are stuck, and you — as the child — outgrow them.
In this case, the young man is clearly well into the Relationship stage, since the core of his complaint is that he doesn’t have a satisfying relationship with his father, and wants one. If the young man were still in Outer Success, he’d be complaining that his father was “clipping his wings” or “oppressing” him. If he were still in Safety/Security, he wouldn’t be complaining at all.
The father, by contrast, is most likely stuck in Safety/Security, which is the case for most “right-wing assholes.”
What the young man is asking Andrew is, “How can I have a relationship with my father?” The answer is, unfortunately, “You can’t.”
What the young man views as a “relationship” is probably something his father can’t even imagine. For the father, there’s an established hierarchy: there is the father, and there is the son. Good sons listen to fathers, and follow their example — sons who don’t, are bad sons (and this represents failed fatherhood). Fathers, in turn, listen to their (insert recognized authority figure here, e.g. “minister” or “Rush Limbaugh”), and so it goes up through the chain of command to God. There is Right, and there is Wrong, and all of it is handed down through the hierarchy.
That’s how parents set boundaries for young children, to keep them safe. “Don’t touch the electric socket.” Or, “Don’t eat of the tree of knowledge.”
The father may have never considered taking a substantial risk of any sort in his life; if he did, the results were likely terrible and he retreated into a safe space with safe boundaries and never came back out. Both are common histories for people stuck in the Safety/Security stage past the age of twelve.
So the “growing up” that the son needs to do — and it is painful — is to accept his Dad’s efforts as the best he can manage, and hope that, someday, his Dad will become unstuck. There’s a lot of natural psychological pressure inside his Dad to do just that, but if the risk of becoming unstuck threatens his sense of security, he’ll fight to remain stuck.
One of the best things his son can do to help his father, is to be a “good son” in his father’s eyes. This will mean not sharing a lot of things that I’m sure he’d like to share. It will mean keeping his mouth shut when he wants to speak, and keeping his temper when he’d like to let it fly. It will mean having a “stunted” or even “fake” relationship with his father, though this should never, ever extend to any kind of deception: the absolute worst thing he can offer his father is betrayal. It will be a difficult road to walk.
But if his father can see him as a good son, he will be able to stop worrying about having failed as a father. That will give him a path to move into Outer Success — “Look at my fine son!” he can say to his audience of peers.
That may give him a path through Outer Success into Relationship. From there, the son’s father will be able to see his son, not as a potential threat to his adequacy as a father, nor even as a “success” to be paraded before the church or Rotary Club, but as a real human being. At that point, perhaps the son can have the relationship he so desperately wants.
Nowhere is it written that a son is entitled to a good relationship with his father.
A word has to be said about the son’s sense that his father’s assholishness is destroying the world. I think Andrew is right about this. The boy’s father is not destroying the world. We are all destroying the world, at least to the extent that it is actually being destroyed.
However, I’m going to guess that Andrew is wrong in saying that the father “thinks for himself.” That is as unlikely as it is irrelevant. Most likely, the father receives all of his thinking from On High, probably through the Fox Entertainment Channel and his religious community. While that sounds contemptible to anyone who has transitioned to Outer Success or beyond — that is, to most people over the age of twelve — it is the natural order of things in the world of Safety/Security and those who are stuck there.
The son’s anger might be better channeled, not against his father, but against the more predatory assholes who manipulate men like his father for personal gain, and give him authority figures who set the bar for decency so low.
That is an entirely different post.