These days, everybody is trying to explain the Trump phenomenon. How did this guy, Donald Trump, who expresses bigotry against practically anyone who isn't a supporter, who has no experience in politics, and whose own party seems to want nothing to do with him; how did he become the presumptive Republican Party nominee for President of the United States? And what makes people at Trump's rallies so passionate, so unruly, so violent, even? And why did each of Trump's Republican rivals shrivel up like the Wet Wicked Witch of the West, every time Trump made fun of them?
Then what about Hillary Clinton (Donald calls her, "Crooked Hillary")? How is it this "unlikable" female Democratic candidate takes Trump's insults and, instead of shriveling up, turns them into millions of dollars in contributions? (Woman Card, anyone? How about the Stop Trump Fund? Republicans for Clinton?)
And then there's that liberal guy, Sanders, who Hillary can't seem to shake off, completely. What keeps him going? What makes people so passionate about his promises? And why do his followers troll the internet, attacking anyone who disagrees even slightly with their candidate, virtually mirroring violent Trump supporters, only with liberal views instead of conservative? How can it be that Sanders' supporters have anything in common with Trump supporters?
And finally, what does all of this have to do with coaching?
Three words: Spiral Dynamics integral (SDi).
What is Spiral Dynamics integral (the "i" in "integral" is usually small case)? It's a psycho-social-spiritual "theory that explains everything", based on the research of psychologist, Clare Graves, and popularized by the 1996 book, Spiral Dynamics (by Don E. Beck and Christopher Cowan). I had the opportunity to study Spiral Dynamics integral intensively with Don Beck several years ago and have been teaching it to coaches ever since.
Understanding this theory is like turning the lights on: suddenly you see everything clearly.
The theories of Spiral Dynamics integral can be complex, but they make perfect sense of our crazy political dramas in a way that nothing else can. No, the nuttiness of this political season isn't just because older white men are angry that they don't always get special treatment, anymore (although that helps fuel it), and no, it's not because feminists just want a woman President (although many do), and no, it's not because millennials are saddled with student debt and a lousy job market (although they certainly are).
Governments, politicians, and political campaigns, among other groups, have been employing Spiral Dynamics integral consultants for decades to help them understand how different demographics think. For instance, SDi was used to help peacefully transition South Africa from apartheid to democracy. No small accomplishment!
Here's the bottom line: It's Values, or Values Systems, to use SDi jargon, that make the difference.
Values are what matter most to you. As any great coach knows, values are one of the most, or perhaps the most, important topic for any coaching conversation, because they are often transformative. But what we've learned from Clare Graves' research is that people also develop psychologically, (or evolve, as SDi puts it) according to their Values Systems.
Values change our brains as well as our choices. They impact individuals and entire cultures.
We think of values as being positive, but they often conflict with each other, which causes real problems. If you value freedom, but also security, for instance, you may desperately want to quit your job and travel the world, but may choose to keep your regular paycheck, instead. We all experience conflicts like this and they often point to our level of development, as well. Savvy coaches help their clients understand their values and make the most of them.
In addition, our values conflict with the values of other people and most of us are so unconscious of this that people who disagree with us can seem like idiots, or crazies, because what's most important feels obvious - but different - to each ot us.
This is why most people avoid talking about religion and politics at parties. Our religious beliefs and political choices are governed by our deeply held values. In fact, sociologist, and author of the book, Cultural Creatives, Paul H. Ray, says our values determine our actions much more so than our demographics.
So how do we talk about Values Systems? Don Beck, co-author of the book, Spiral Dynamics, devised a color coding system while consulting in South Africa, to take people's focus off skin color and ethnicity (types of people) and focus instead on Values Systems (types of thinking). Focusing on types of people, versus types of behavior or thinking, leads to stereotyping and bigotry.
Here, very simply, are the identified Values Systems of Spiral Dynamics integral:
- Beige: survival and comfort, kind of like a baby.
- Purple: safety and nurturance, family and tribes come together for this.
- Red: self expression and adventure, adolescents and warriors break free from the tribe to embrace these.
- Blue: tradition and rules, we find our place in the larger order.
- Orange: productive and rational, we work to create a better world through progress.
- Green: compassionate and sensitive, we notice and stand up for those who are disadvantaged.
- Yellow: flexible and aware, we innovate solutions to the world's problems.
- Turquoise: holistic and integrated, we feel one with the whole world.
Each of the above Values Systems has a shadow side (less healthy), which may comprise a rejection of the previous Values System, or a perverted version of it. Some Values Systems are more masculine or feminine than others, while certain Values Systems may resonate with others. For example, both Orange and Green tend to resonate with Red. No healthy adult exhibits just one Values System, all the time. In fact, most of us think at a variety of levels under different circumstances.
Here are some shadow sides of Spiral Dynamics integral:
- Beige: infantile and regressive.
- Purple: suspicious, controlling, over-protective, us against them.
- Red: angry, rebellious, destructive, violent.
- Blue, judgmental, rejecting, rigid, holier then thou.
- Orange, shallow, sleazy, corrupt, materialistic, win at all costs.
- Green: blaming, passive, irresponsible.
- Yellow: disloyal, dismissive, impatient, above it all, overly reliant on technology.
- Turquoise: hubris, superiority, overly reliant upon intuition.
Back to the Trump phenomenon:
Donald Trump was identified in the book, Spiral Dynamics, as a great example of Orange thinking. This productive and rational Values System dominates the world of Big Business and politics. In fact, virtually any successful politician has a strong streak of Orange. But Orange gets its ethical underpinning from Blue tradition and rules. Without a good streak of Blue rules and traditions, Orange becomes sleazy and will say and do anything to win, succeed, or make money.
Sound at all familiar? Both Democratic and Republican leaders are shocked by Trump's refusal to follow the rules and traditions of American politics.
Also, Trump projects an air of hyper-masculinity and seems to be weak on the more feminine Values Systems of Purple, Blue, Green, and Turquoise. With these weaknesses, especially weak Blue, Orange tends to resonate strongly with unhealthy Red: angry destructive, even violent.
As Don Beck says: When Blue is weak, Red spills out. Remember the Trump supporter who was interviewed after sucker-punching a protester at a Trump rally, who said, "We may have to kill him,"?
This brings us to the research of Mathew MacWilliams, which shows Trump supporters are strong on authoritarianism. Authoritarians obey. They become angry when others don't obey the same rules. This group is similar to what Paul Ray calls, "traditionalists", and is strongly consistent with the SDi levels of Purple, Red, and Blue.
Whether you call them traditionalists or authoritarians, it's helpful to know why they think as they do. Purple, being about family or tribe, tends to follow the rules laid down by the chief, parent, or head of household; because that keeps everyone safe and avoids conflict. Think of the wife who doesn't follow politics, because she just votes the same as her husband.
Red, being about freedom, believes "might makes right" and tends to only follow leaders who who are "mighty" in some way. Tony Soprano from the old gangster TV show, is the perfect example: he was bigger and smarter than all the other members of his crew.
Blue, believes in a rightful order that includes a hierarchy of privileged elites. Think of the Queen of England, the Catholic Pope, or Hitler.
As a billionaire, Trump qualifies as an elite. If you've seen pictures of his homes, you know they are palatial. He's also a Big Boss, who seems to bully anyone who gets in his way. If you're thinking at Red, you will actually find this attractive. Finally, when talking about women, Trump says all they want is to be safe and secure, so he tries to present the image of the big chief who will build a big wall and keep all the terrorists out.
Trump may think primarily at Orange, but he resonates with Red. And, being weak on Blue, his sleazy Orange will say and do anything to stay popular with Purple and Blue authoritarians.
So are Trump supporters really authoritarian? Some disagree. Are authoritarians the same as fascists, as some Trump accusers say? Is this something to be alarmed about? What levels are Clinton and Sanders playing to? Are they any better?
Would you coach any of these people? And if so, how?
We'll revisit all of these questions in...
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