In a recent post I outlined Ken Wilber’s quadrant theory, which I think is an incredibly helpful way of gaining a full picture of organizations and issue areas. While the quadrants describe the internal and external, individual and social frameworks we encounter in the world, Wilber also spends a lot of time writing about value systems. How individual and social “value systems” color how we perceive political, cultural, social and spiritual issues.

Three Major Value Systems in Modern Life

I have some reservations as a Wilber reader with some of his broader claims around value systems. Specifically, Wilber at times overstates value systems as a way of understanding social, cultural and political challenges without acknowledging other important variables. Nevertheless, an understanding of value systems can provide a deeper understanding people and institutions. Wilber follows other developmental theorists in describing three major value systems in modern life: (the color scheme comes from a management consulting system called Spiral Dynamics).

Blue: Mythic Self. Blue Mythic Self value systems favor hierarchy and clearly defined roles and rules. Regardless of what their actual policy agenda is, the rhetoric of the Tea Party is often a reflection of the Mythic Self.
Orange: Modern Self
. This is the conventional, rational value system that can be seen in many modern Fortune 500 corporations, schooling and other systems that favor scientific approaches, accomplishment, and competition.

Green: The Sensitive Self: This is the value system that many folks in the CivicActions universe will probably be drawn to. This value system connects with pluralism, interest in human rights, hearing different voices and recognizing different perspectives.

An Integrative Value System

Now Wilber adds a wrinkle. Instead of leaving things at the sensitive self level (in fact he is a harsh critic of it at times), Wilber calls for a integrative value system. The basic reason that Wilber doesn’t settle on the Sensitive Self is, that like the other two value structures the Sensitive Self ultimately feels that it is right and others are wrong. With an integral viewpoint, we can not only acknowledge and see that there are different value systems, we can recognize that different value systems are most appropriate for different situations. As Wilber puts it:

“An integral approach is based on one basic idea: no human mind can be 100% wrong. Or, we might say, nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time. And that means, when it comes to deciding which approaches, methodologies, epistemologies, or ways or knowing are ‘correct,’ the answer can only be, ‘All of them.'”

An Empathetic Approach

Like the quadrants, an all value systems approach is incredibly helpful as a strategic frame. Whether working on organizational culture or messaging, value systems are present. Of course not all value systems can be pleased at all times and each value system has a real shadow side. Understanding and empathizing with different value systems does not mean trying to please all value systems all the time. Instead, an integral values can can help create a more flexible, dynamic and discerning approach.