17 May 2008

Stages of Growth

A series of teaching challenges for both community leaders and university students has lead me to think deeply about how to help students discover that humanity is evolving towards spiritual maturity and how this implies that the role of the individual is to actively contribute towards building a society that reflects the next step in this evolution. Upon thinking about how to go about accomplishing this, I recalled reading a chapter from “The Post Corporate World” by David Korten in which he describes in lay terms the emotional characteristics of a person in different stages of growth. Although it sounds perfectly logical that the development field would think about our stages of growth enough to describe them in detail, this task has been delegated to psychologists while development normally concerns itself with other pressing matters.

It seems to me, however, that only by clearly visualizing both our collective history and future as a series of stages in human growth leading us towards maturity analogous to those through which an individual passes throughout his/her life, can we hope to rid anybody of the apathy that has so firmly gripped many of our fellow human beings. Concentrating on the complexity and apparent enormity of problems any one society faces is so daunting to most that will to action is easily paralyzed. Under these circumstances, development comes to mean physical infrastructure building and thus loses much of its meaning. If, however, humanity itself is understood as an organic, evolving whole, and development means building capacity and vision to activate both individual and collective transformation from one stage of growth to the next, then will to action, and passion to serve others emerge naturally from deep within human nature.

With this as a broad learning objective, I became inspired by parts of Korten’s text to create this growth chart. After having students work with the descriptions by classifying them into the correct stages, I hand out the whole sheet and the class starts thinking about where each one of us is on the continuum, where our local and national culture is and finally where the global community can be classified. Students have no difficulty agreeing that as a whole, we are in the Adolescent stage, although discussion is a little more challenging for the class to decide that humanity as a whole is moving towards maturity. Once that is accomplished, though, many important implications start seeping naturally into class discussions, and thus into consciousness, such as the true nature of leadership, characteristics of a consultative decision-making process and our responsibilities towards less fortunate people and whole segments of society. Students can then clearly envision how our current legal, economic and political systems were born during our collective childhood and how they no longer respond to the needs of a more mature humanity and how building new institutions that respond to our emotional and spiritual need for inclusion and community building is foremost among the responsibilities of each individual.

I realize now that this chart describes individual growth stages, and that it would be useful to do the same exercise with both institutions and the community, the other two main actors in society building. I also realize now that it would be useful to make a second chart focusing. spiritual stages of growth to compliment the emotional characteristics on this chart.

In any case, I can see that this instrument has guided my students and me towards achieving the ambitious learning objective that I set. Seeing students eager to start serving others and reflecting on that service in terms of the unity and justice they are contributing towards, has brought both me and many of my students great satisfaction.

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