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Can We Measure Growth by Stages? (Part 2)

February 15, 2013
An infant

An infant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Yesterday I posted an article with the chart below.  It included comments on the Societal/Personal and Cognitive columns of the chart.  Today I am posting the same chart again, with the “Special Notes” section just below it, and then skipping to the Psycho-social and Spiritual category comments.


To briefly reiterate: I believe there is great value in gaining some understanding of the leading developmental stage theories, and particularly how they relate to one another.  This can be valuable for use for oneself as well as it is, often highly so,  for working with other people who may have less insight into themselves and less knowledge of either social science findings or spiritual development than you or other “people helpers” do.


Stages of Human Development


Societal / Personal          (Ken Wilber) Cognitive(Jean Piaget) Psycho-Social (Erik Erikson) Spiritual(James Fowler)
Integral (Reflection on Abstraction) 16+ Generativity vs. Stagnation  25-65 Universalizing       Mature years
Postmodern Formal/Abstract Thinking   11-15 Identity vs.Role Confusion   12-20 Individuative – Reflective
Modern Concrete Thinking               7-11 Industry vs. Inferiority   6-11 Synthetic – Conventional
Pre-modern Pre/Early Concrete Thinking    Birth – 7 Initiative vs. Guilt                 3-6 Mythic – Literal Generally childhood


Special Notes and References:


The chart is merely a general comparison of some key stage descriptions of inter-related lines of our development, including the idea of societal or cultural development in the far-left column.  Each of the stage theories here has additional levels below, above or between ones listed.  Childhood is included mainly because its general parallels in psycho-social and spiritual areas are often where young or even older adults get and sometimes remain stuck.  (E.g., many religious believers stay in the lower two levels on the right, which involve limited abstract thinking, at least in consistent ways.)


[For first two columns, see post of 2-14-13]




Erikson was a pioneer building on Freud’s basic insights and going broader into life issues, less focused on sexuality and competition.  His stages cover the full life-span (8 in all).  One not on the chart he puts between Identity and Generativity: “Intimacy vs. Isolation” (about age 20-24).  In key psychological and social ways, one must surmount the task on any level to move to the next, with healthiness and balance. Still, while intimacy indeed builds on gaining basic identity, sub-identities we take on fluctuate and a few people do become “generative”, satisfied with their contributions, while remaining largely socially isolated.  They may find real intimacy later in life, if at all.


Sometimes these tasks must be revisited as well, as circumstances change.  This category can be seen to overlap with spiritual development in certain ways, as in the development of care and helping others and in the similarity of gaining a work vocation to developing a spiritual vocation (i.e., an identity with disciplines, practices, attitudes as well as religious beliefs).  Also the sense of a “midlife” (or other phase) crisis may include spiritual issues along with those of identity, career, physical aging, “empty nesting”, etc.  What “psycho-social” development does not include that we generally think of as spiritual are sets of beliefs about ultimate meaning, the afterlife, God, and the practice of what are often called “spiritual disciplines” (although these often overlap with psychological habits and brain-training exercises).




James Fowler is less known than Erikson or even Piaget.  His main theory work was published in 1981 as Stages of Faith.  He actually has seven levels, numbered 0 through 6.  The lowest shown above, Mythic-Literal, begins around age 7-8.  It is important that Fowler’s theory recognizes the formative role of the earlier stages, in the power of their impressions on our subconscious, primarily our ability to trust or not…. This posture tends to generalize beyond parents or any particular violator of trust to all people, and to God or “the universe”.  The more consistent and deep the nurture early on, the easier to trust throughout life, although healing can come to the damaged in a number of ways, many of them on a level we would call “spiritual” or perhaps “religious”.  (The different ways these two terms are used needs definition.  For brevity here, since the chart uses only “spiritual”, let’s just say it refers to meaning, values and experiences beyond what can be rationally analyzed and measured and may or may not be part of a particular religious belief system… it is much more than mere beliefs or participation in rituals or religious activities.)


Concluding Comments:


There are not only additional categories to consider in a thorough picture of integrated developmental stages but other important researchers and theorists not mentioned above.  One important thing to remember about all these theories is that the higher stages merely build upon lower ones, and do not entirely leave them behind.  The idea is “include and surpass”.  In some situations we may fall back on the style or the issues of an earlier stage.  We may do so just temporarily or in one area of thinking or experience more than others although one area of growth in development tends to affect and raise the others.  It is also important to note that high intelligence or lots of knowledge does not necessarily elevate social, moral, spiritual or other lines.  People who are highly self-centered and tend to use or abuse others are often what we think of as smart.  They often understand people well also, in the sense of how to manipulate them successfully, but have little or no empathy, so are not well integrated or “whole” (or wholesome)  people.


Just a bit more on Integral theory: Wilber has a number of capable associates and partners in his work, and a large following of readers, participants in Integral Life (.com) courses and conferences, online community, etc.  There is also Integral Institute (.org) and a fairly new branch called Integral Christianity, akin to the insights and values of process theology and progressive Christianity.  (Christianity is vastly broad and diverse in its expressions over time and at this point in time… It is clearly an example that religion can operate at a very low and oppressive developmental level at times and in some places and also be soaring and liberating for its followers and society at others… seemingly still maturing and its lower expressions gradually falling away.)


A final important note, something that could be said to be the main point of Wilber’s Integral Spirituality: he believes the major religions, with all their flaws, are crucial to human development and the movement toward a sustainable and peaceful world.  He calls them the great “conveyor belt” for their potential to educate and guide people toward higher levels of development.  This despite their tendency, like most institutions, to be clogged with resistance to change and to foster fear-based restrictions and reactions.  Despite this, religions do change and grow overall themselves and in much of the world they are the primary institutions with influence on the thinking and behavior of most of the populace.  In other words, they need more than just our criticism or ignoring, and they cannot be expected to become irrelevant any time soon.


Your thoughts?


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