The Hunt for Turquoise
These days, students often come into our SPIRAL DYNAMICS® seminars having been pre-exposed to some variation on the theme of the Spiral. While there are some good representations of the point of view which begin to equip them, other spin-offs are misleading in that they program participants into the typology trap or worse. Some versions foster obedient belief in the dogma of a quasi-religion swathed in cultish saffron yellow robes more than critical thinking about emergent systems in human nature, how complex we are, and how much we still don’t know.
That is to say, derivative renditions frequently impart an over-simplified, watered-down, types-of-people, color-coded view of the Spiral which relies on ‘altitude’ or ‘verticality’ to point to idealized end states: “Enlightened people are Turquoises, at the least, maybe Teal, and they must travel the Yellow brick road to get there.” When followers of these approaches come to us, they often have the impression that ‘up’ is good and ‘down’ is deficiency, and that to be at least ‘second tier’ or ‘turquoise’ (perhaps merely ‘yellow’ if one is modest) is the necessary goal of any sensible human being or organization. As ambitions grow, the color list expands despite scant evidence of new biopsychosocial systems in play, just better ideas and execution within existing levels – horizontal change. Thus, Teal is the new Yellow.
Most of these folks aren’t seeking to understand the many models we cover, nor do they see Graves work as a window on human nature: they want their faith in their own ‘turquoise accomplishments’ to be confirmed since a sensation deep inside irks them with, “I’m not there yet.” So, they put on a mask and try harder to be something that has no substantial definition. This need is met by those eager to exploit weaknesses and gather followers.
Very well-meaning people are sometimes so highly ego-involved in preserving their high-status colors, even to creating an identity around ‘living the spiral’ just as others might organize their lives around the sacred words in a holy book that mundane facts become heresies. De-programming this pre-frame in favor of a clearer understanding of what the model is and is not, as well as demonstrating that all the systems have both strengths and weaknesses in their times and places, is not simple.
Appreciation for all the levels is easy to say, hard to do. For people stuck in New Age versions of the DQ/ER transition in search of purpose, meaning, and empowerment with missionary zeal, it’s nearly impossible. Too much integral indoctrination seems to fixate rather than open the minds of some, leaving them compelled to be at the least ‘yellow’ or else. And the self-centric certitude of many struggling to break out of ER and into FS (while proclaiming theirs to be a Yellow-to-Turquoise conversion) makes understanding of the whole spiral profoundly difficult, and the elegance of each level hard to discern. (That is one reason we now require completion of our in-depth SD Level 1 as a prerequisite for admission into our SD Level 2 and advanced courses.)
We address the worship of upsy-downsy dimensions elsewhere in the FAQ: draw the spiral sideways or use concentric spheres and solve the up-or-down dilemma. We point out that congruence – fit and appropriateness to the realities at hand – is the test of effectiveness in systems, and that positive change – from wasteful and consumptive ER to constructive and sustainable ER, for example – comes before transformations across systems and counts as growth, too.
At the same time, we also agree that more elaborated systems offer progressively more explanatory power and degrees of freedom for their contexts, so there’s potential advantage in them, too. Facilitating their emergence is laudable, but insisting on it at the expense of effective and functioning lives is arrogant delusion. Sometimes, a ‘lower’ system is better than a ‘higher’ one because it is tuned to fit a situation well. Within limits, we support Clare Graves’s admonition that, “Damn it all, a person has a right to be who he is.”
Seeking “verticality,” fostering the belief that “higher is better” in all contexts, aspiring to the mythical “second tier,” following the “staircase” to enlightenment, are all examples of how people (especially when centralized around DQ (Blue) and ER (Orange)) can miss central aspects of a model and convert it into something entirely different. So this page is aimed at reinforcing a central aspect of our approach which many superficial renditions overlook or dismiss: Graves’s concept of an emergent, cyclical, double-helix. The levels, however they be designated (colors, numbers, letter pairs, etc.), are the products of this interactive process. They are artifacts, not essence. Understand this principle and you begin to understand the theory, not just a model with handy color-tagged categories.