Telling the Story of Development

Susanne Cook-GreuterAudio, Biographies, Conversations, Intrapersonal, Perspectives, Psychology, Self-Identity, What is human development? Leave a Comment

How did a young girl growing up in Switzerland, where only boys were encouraged to go to high school — let alone university — end up working with some of the finest minds in the world at the Harvard Graduate School of Education? As Susanne and Ken joke, perhaps it had something to do with being born on a street called “Philosopher‘s Path.” However it happened, that path led her straight to HGSE, home to Robert Kegan, Carol Gilligan, Kurt Fischer, Howard Gardner, and Jane Loevinger, probably the single greatest concentration of developmental studies “greats” you‘ll find anywhere — most of whom are either founding members of I-I, or good friends.

One of the concepts that make an Integral Approach more than a merely two-dimensional map of reality is its deep understanding of the developmental nature of human growth and unfolding. Failing to take into account the developmental aspect of interior growth is to guarantee a profoundly inadequate mode of relating to your fellow man and woman. Susanne is at the leading tip of scholars and researchers actively exploring and documenting this crucial dimension of human experience.

Susanne has taken Jane Loevinger‘s work with tracing ego development, or how individuals understand themselves and their own self-identity, and has quite literally taken it to new heights (for the details on this, see Scholar‘s Notes). Developmental studies tracks how growth or actualization hierarchies appear in human beings, and the secret to this particular game is understanding that growth hierarchies are what is necessary to eliminate dominator or pathological hierarchies — the higher an individual is on a psychological growth hierarchy, the more inclusive, embracing, caring, conscious, and compassionate that individual is going to be (rather than repressive, domineering, and authoritarian, which are characteristic of lower levels of development). The fact that Susanne is mapping and elucidating some of these higher stages of consciousness growth and evolution is really quite a significant achievement, and contributes directly to how each of us — you and I — can reach towards and manifest our own highest possibilities, “telling the story of development” in our own lives.

For the word “development” to have any meaning at all, an occasion must move from A to B to C — such as atoms to molecules to cells — with each new level of complexity transcending and including its predecessor, which means there is a directionality to this kind of growth (e.g., you will never see molecules appear before atoms, because atoms are intrinsic and necessary elements of molecules — A can exist without B, but not vice versa, and this “not vice versa” implies stages of unfolding that go one way). As with the exterior world (atoms to molecules to cells), the interior world of the human psyche follows the same basic rules of development — transcend and include — unfolding from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric and beyond as structures of consciousness. The fundamental building blocks of interior growth are not atoms or molecules or cells, but perspectives. From a 1st-person (egocentric) to a 2nd-person (ethnocentric) to a 3rd-person (worldcentric) perspective and beyond, you have to master them in that order.

Loevinger‘s stage conception for ego development goes from symbiotic to impulsive to self-protective to conformist to conscientious to individualistic to autonomous to integrated. But during Susanne‘s own testing, she encountered individuals who simply didn‘t fit the model, and she suspected they might be “higher” than what the Loevinger scale could offer. Finally, after more than 15 years of meticulous research, Susanne was able to conclude that there are several more stages of growth available to human beings, loosely summarized here as construct-aware, ego-aware, and transpersonal. This is a major breakthrough, and we are extremely excited about the possibilities for replicating and expanding upon this important work. The fact that Loevinger and other developmentalists “missed” these higher stages is not necessarily an egregious omission, but rather a reflection of the fact that the higher you go on any of these scales, the fewer human beings living there, and the ability to perform data-based research gets exponentially more difficult.

Susanne and Ken go on to talk about the work of the late Charles “Skip” Alexander and his research with Transcendental Meditation (TM) — using, in fact, some of Susanne‘s protocols — which is still some of the most telling work regarding the effects of long-term meditation, namely: although you can‘t skip developmental stages, meditation is the one practice empirically demonstrated to help you move up vertical stages in a sometimes dramatically-accelerated fashion. For more on the relation of structure-stages, state-stages, and spiritual practice, see Ken‘s Integral Spirituality.

Further topics include the difference between “talk” and “walk” (or simply “levels and lines”), why states are exclusionary and stages are inclusionary, why it‘s so important to encourage flourishing at every stage of development alongside the invitation to keep growing, how different stages of development responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and why computerizing the Sentence Completion Test (created by Loevinger, and expanded by Susanne) might be the next big step in learning ever-more about the ways we learn and grow.

Not only is Susanne a founding member of Integral Institute, she is also one of our most popular seminar trainers, receiving some of the highest scores of any of our teachers. We think you‘ll agree that Susanne is a perfect refutation of the “those nasty rankers” moniker blasted at anyone courageous enough to show that, as Ken often says, “everyone is right, and some are more right than others” — the creed of a developmental bodhisattva, one of the rarest bodhisattvas of all.

Image: Angel by Sheri Munce [+view gallery]

Susanne Cook-Greuter

About Susanne Cook-Greuter

Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter, born in Switzerland, is an internationally known authority on mature adult development, continuing the work of developmental pioneer Jane Loevinger. Her thesis, Postautonomous Ego Development (1999), is a landmark study in the characteristics and assessment of highly developed and influential individuals and leaders. She holds a doctorate in education from Harvard University, and is also a founding member of Integral Institute.

Ken Wilber

About Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.