Thriving together through vibrant connections.


Developmental Theory and the Evolution of Earth and Humanity, Part I

Sure, there are aspects of my younger self that I miss (like my youthful waistline, I have the “Covid 19”), but mostly I wouldn’t want to go back in time for anything.  It’s not that I had a bad childhood or youth.  I don’t wish to go back to the ignorance, stress, and struggle of that era, even for all the money in the world.


I suppose I have stories of glory from my youth, but what stands out are the moments of pain.  We all probably had moments in our youth where we were afraid we wouldn’t fit in or be accepted.  Where we were confused by what we were “supposed” to do.  When we decided to form our own opinion or path, stepping into unknown territory, often to a chorus of criticism or complaints that invite us to remain where we are.  Don’t rock the boat.  Stay small and embrace our status quo.


Thus the tension.  Learn and grow to be bigger than you are, and leave behind your old beliefs and self, and maybe even some loved ones.    Challenge begets more challenge, both of which beget more learning and growth.  A vicious, and also beautiful and reinforcing, upward spiral.


The learning trajectory and its implications


I know this trajectory is by no means unique, but describing it from 30,000 feet seems to help provide a comforting perspective.   It all makes sense from the perspective of our psychological development, and when we integrate that with our soul’s purpose, it all falls into place.


I understand that the purpose of our souls is to create love and light, learning and growth.  We reincarnate, or are born into Earth School.  We each enter having designed our own curriculum that includes the learning partners, together providing the right educational conditions for us to learn what we came here to learn.


But learning is a choice, and we can choose to learn, or we can choose to resist. 


When we choose to learn, we proceed on that upward spiral of change that, with time and effort, grows our individual and collective consciousness.


What is especially beautiful about this is that we do not stand alone in this growth.  As we expand, we help others do the same, especially our children and subsequent generations.  In other words, they will be able to reach higher and farther because they’re building upon what we’ve taught them, and what we’ve learned.


Imagine that this happens for millennia.  How much more developmentally advanced are we compared to our ancestors of 1000 years ago?  What are the implications of this development socially, culturally, and spiritually for the future?


Now imagine humanity as a single species among the millions co-existing species on Earth (living in various levels of harmony).  Our wellbeing and destiny are intricately linked to flora, fauna, mineral, and even all of Earth herself.  


We are developing within this web.  What are the implications?


First, we will perturb the system.  This delicate balance has to shift as we change.  If we are not conscious of the downstream consequences, the results can be disastrous as we are collectively starting to understand and experience in an acute manner.


Second, what is the likelihood that we are the only ones evolving?  If we are not the only ones, is it possible that the whole ecosystem is evolving and we’re evolving along with it?


If we continue with a recursive line of logic, we can consider the following:  if we and our ecosystem are evolving, maybe Earth herself evolving too.  Perhaps she is instigating the evolution.  Or that Earth, as part of the solar system, galaxy, universe, multiverse, is evolving because the multiverse is evolving.


From that vantage, our individual and even species development feels quite small, probably an appropriate perspective for the ones that seem to be working hard to foster its own destruction.


Given that evolution and human developmental psychology are different sides of the same coin (or different facets of the same disco ball), what can we learn from human developmental psychology with regard to the evolutionary trajectory of humans, our ecosystems, Earth, and beyond?


Let’s start by exploring a theory of adult development by Harvard professor Robert Kegan, and see what parallels might exist within the larger systems in which we live.


Kegan theory of adult development


The process of evolution from those painful moments in adolescence to our wiser selves are described by developmental psychology.  The process is facilitated by having a growth mindset, enabling us to learn and grow.  People with a growth mindset tend to be more resilient, successful, and less prone to depression compared to those with a fixed mindset (see Carol Dweck, Growth Mindset).  


People who learn and grow, usually in response to challenge, create the conditions to expand developmentally, according to Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan.  Kegan’s model for adult development focuses on cognitive development, which occurs along a continuum where we learn to understand and manage complexity.  The more extensively we develop, the more we are able to successfully navigate our increasingly complex world.  


Kegan describes four main stages for adults.  We tend not to move through the stages uniformly, but rather move forward in some areas of our lives while staying the same or even moving backwards when under stress in others.  More is not necessarily better.  What is healthiest is when our lives match the developmental stage that we are in.


People usually enter adulthood exhibiting the mindset of the self-sovereign stage, where we understand and process our reality from the perspective of our own wants and needs.   Other people’s reality, nuance, and shades of grey are not really a thing for us in the self-sovereign stage.  The stereotypical teenager might be considered a self-sovereign exemplar.


If we develop beyond self-sovereign, we move into self-socialized.  Those of us in the socialized stage view reality from the perspective of their identity group.  That group might be their family, social circle, community, workplace, etc.  The identity group’s values, goals, and style will be unconsciously emulated and endorsed, and we may be exemplar representatives of that group.  Civilization is possible because of the communal strengths of the members of this stage.


Those who move past the socialized stage move into self-authored.  Those of us in the self-authored stage view ourselves as the authority of our reality.  We identify our own goals and pursue them.  While we may understand the goals of others, we are most interested in our own interpretation of the world as we understand it.  Though a much more independent mindset compared to socialized, the self-authored person may be considered a maverick or uncooperative by their socialized counterparts.


The next stage is self-transforming.  In this stage, those who are self-authored give up our certainty about our interpretation of reality and authority, and start to question the beliefs that others are still trying to understand.  One of the most creative stages, those who are self-transforming may also struggle with prioritizing goals or actions, because so much of our reality feels subjective and conditional.


In our blog next week, we will explore the developmental stages of humanity and Earth.