Many conversations take place without regard to something of central importance. And that missing awareness is regarding the central perspective of the person or people being addressed.
If you were talking with a child, you might naturally bring the conversation to a level of vocabulary and complexity that fits them and their level of maturity. Or if you were talking to a teen, you might shape the conversation with an awareness of what they can relate to given their hormonal state and level of life experience. However, once someone reaches adulthood, are there not stages of maturity of perspective that are as different from each other as those considered in addressing a child or a teen?
In my experience of working with adults regarding accomplishment and fulfillment, I work with people directly to evolve through differing states of development that could be considered varying levels of maturity about one’s place in the world. While these levels aren’t a recognized or well-discussed part of the general culture, they are indeed useful in assessing why certain challenges work out well with some people and not with others. I propose these perspectives as being of key importance in building relationships and organizations that work at higher levels than normal.
Let us say that people have a certain “center of gravity” about what kind of self they are, and that they tend to return to this center of gravity. It is possible to inspire people to act beyond it, but once the inspiration passes, gravity takes over. The key to evolving an organization is to evolve the “center of gravity” of the kind of selves people consider themselves to be. Doing so will give a qualitatively different kind of world of action and outcomes for those involved.
So, what are these different levels of self that wind up centers of gravity determining people’s world and identifications? Let me name four of them.
The first is what I call the “You Flow“. This is where people consider the world as it effects them individually and personally — them as a person. It is “me-centric”. In terms of Steinberg’s famous New Yorker cover that views Manhattan as the center of the world and other existences as smaller, distant, and few, the You as a center of gravity views everything in its relation to oneself, and importances are assessed in relation to “what’s in it for me?”
The nasty underbelly of this perspective that is rarely mentioned in polite company is that “others aren’t very real” to a “me-centered” person. They are the other actors in the play, but peripheral and only important in regard to what they provide to “me”. Developing an organization or relationship with people centered in the You Flow requires speaking to and managing the sense of ‘what is in it for them” consistently. And the level of mutuality, the level of identification with the whole of the company, and the concern for others and their expression is low and tenuous.
A second level and more evolved center of gravity of a self is what I call the “Others Flow“. Here, one has a sense of oneself as an environment for what can be called up from others. There is more trust and less concern for what one has to bring to the conversation or to the enterprise. That will come forward quite naturally by calling up the best fit and contribution of others. Here the world perspective shifts and others are not only real, they are equal to oneself. And they are not only equal, but can be enhanced by the environment for contribution that you provide. Counter-intuitively, the more one seeks to call up other’s contribution, the more one’s own contribution gets made.
There are several benefits to this evolution of the center of gravity of one self to a concern for contributing to others and to ensuring their contribution as well:
- One’s worries about oneself become of little concern.
- The overall sense of accomplishment and fit become enhanced — there is a sense of belonging in a powerful way to what is being built relationally and organizationally.
- Developmental themes arise quite naturally, responsive to an issue found to be at play between people that is stuck in the culture and yet can be resolved. This thematic awareness allows for greater focus and mutual effectiveness across groups of people.
Is there life beyond others and people? Certainly there is. The third level of evolving the perspective of a self, I call the “Life Flow“. Here, oneself and others are seen in the context of what Life is doing, where Life is going, and how Life works. People are seen in their context as an expression of Life and connected to it — to all of it. And what is of interest, as central to a self, is the aspect of Life that they embody, the strength that they recognize in a certain dimension of Life.
At this level, the self is at peace with its history, and its history isn’t considered personal. “Yes, those kinds of things happen to people who show up at this point, nearly 14 trillion years into evolution, with a four-part brain cobbled together from reptilian, mammalian and human structures.” It is neither a personal failing nor a personal accomplishment. What is of interest is “What is calling to be fulfilled in Life now that is available to unfold and accomplish?”
People grounded in the Life Flow are often seen from the outside in two ways — as inspiring and tuned in, as well as a bit challenging to others to rise to the timely occasion. Given our mutual embeddedness in Life, people grounded in the Life Flow can speak to the the larger aspirations and fit of individuals and groups. They can keep their perspective regarding what can be accomplished and are much less effected by setbacks and difficulties along the way. After all, evolution hasn’t proceeded smoothly, and Life doesn’t seem particularly concerned with our comfort and ease. Earning the next level of evolution and accomplishment is seen as a privilege and opportunity more than as a test of one’s being OK. There is honor in doing what Life is doing. And the outcome isn’t the only measure. Congruence also counts.
There is a fourth level of maturity of a self that looks beyond Life and comes to it and not just from it. I call this level the “What Integrates and Fulfills Flow“. The central perspective of a self here is indeed engaged with what integrates Life and what fulfills Life. One can see through Life to fundamental principles that lead to greater wholeness and awareness. One can generate new levels of living. People centered here seem less embedded in Life’s circumstances and more capable of having any circumstance become an occasion for communication and development and accomplishment.
Here one’s way of living becomes a “force field” for others to evolve from level to level in their identification of self. And here too, new accomplishments seem somehow to have a qualitatively greater fit with one’s times and circumstances. There is a resonance, a wholeness, a satisfaction while engaged in work as well as when the work outcome turns out. It is a perspective that is whole at the beginning, whole in the middle and whole in the end. It is more a way of approaching “turning Life out” (to higher order wholes), than it is beholden to any particular method or procedure. No procedure is sacred here. One listens to what integrates and fulfills and improvises accordingly.
Organizations and relationships led from the What Integrates and Fulfills Flow are constantly refreshed, renewed, and called upon for development. The work is its own reward. And low-level issues and stuckness between people gets called up to be resolved in favor of higher-orders of maturing of a self.
It is worthwhile to keep in mind these levels of maturity in one’s engaging with others. The more aware one is of the scale of evolution of a self, the more likely one is to take further territory, to spend less time working with low-maturity people, and to spend more time accomplishing and being partners with high-maturity people one has helped to become so.