The Colors of Change: Green

Spiral Dynamics is a theory of human and societal development uncovered by  Dr. Clare W. Graves (1914-1986). Graves was a developmental psychologist and professor of psychology at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He was a peer of Abraham Maslow.

Graves’ model is a bio-psycho-social one based on more than two decades of research. According to Ken Wilber, the founder of the Integral movement which incorporates Spiral Dynamics, the Gravesian model has so far “been tested in more than fifty thousand people from around the world, and there have been no major exceptions found in the general scheme.” It has also been called, the Theory of Everything.

With this model, Graves discovered the underlying pattern for human and societal change. He identified eight unique stages (or layers as I refer to them) that we move through in a set sequence. However, the model continues beyond these stages and is “neverending”. As long as humanity survives, we will grow and evolve.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Green layer of development.

Green“Communitarian/Egalitarian” (Communal, Left-Brain Focused)

Emerged: 150 years ago

Mantra: Seek peace within the inner self and explore, with others, the caring dimensions of community.

Core values: Connection, communication, sensitivity, cooperation, and networks.

The Green layer began to emerge approximately 150 years ago and swings back to “we” and communal/group awareness. It explores the inner being with a deep sense of community and unity. It tries to share resources equally with all, and to liberate humans from greed and dogma. It values consensus decisions rather than authority and seeks harmony.

An early wave of the Green layer began in the 1960s when Green made up approximately 10 percent of the population in the US. During the 1960s we saw the emergence of “hippies” and the resistance to the Vietnam War. Green also brought the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, and a push for equality of all kinds. In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, which remains one of the most important, and relatable environmental science books by holding humans (Orange) accountable for abusing our environment with no regard to our or its survival.

Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species–man–acquired significant power to alter the nature of the world.

For individuals, this layer may emerge after age 25, although it’s important to note that not everyone will move into Green. After age 25, growth or evolution seems to stall, just as physical growth does, unless there is a deliberate effort to push oneself, or the external living conditions somehow push growth.

During the Green layer, network-based systems, such as cryptocurrency and block chain technology, have emerged. We’ve also seen an increase in vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.

In Graves’ research, for all layers, Green had the highest values for belonging and the lowest values for independence (tied with Blue).

Positive Expressions of Green include the creation of community, harmony, the acceptance of differences, and compassion for all people and the planet. Green can be very open, warm, empathic, and helpful.

Negative Expressions of Green include conflict avoidance, extreme political correctness, and overly lengthy conversations for consensus and inclusion. Green may also try to impose “Green” solutions in an effort to “help,” even when the solution may not be the right one for the situation. Green’s need to be liked and included by its peers often gets in the way of independent decision making. Green’s challenge is to be able to apply the wisdom of crowds without falling into a sheep mentality of just following the herd.

Presidential candidate and Senator, Elizabeth Warren, recently commented that the news media, politicians, and corporations are distracting Americans with fights over light bulbs and hamburgers. While efforts to personally save energy and reduce water consumption are commendable, Warren points out that these “Green” solutions only address part of our environmental and climate crises, and that we also need to focus on the larger causes.

Some theorists, including Ken Wilber in his book, Trump and a Post-Truth World, focus on the negative expressions of Green, calling it the “Mean Green Meme.” Wilber talks about Green’s culture of narcissism and criticizes its extreme focus on equality resulting in a loss of a shared common truth. Since Green tends to value all opinions, even ill-informed opinions can rise to the surface. Wilber argues that this has led to today’s climate of “fake news.”

Gravesian theorists believe that humanity will move through the Green layer fairly quickly in response to the urgency of the problems facing us, expanding us to the Second Tier which we will cover next. Since we first became humans at Beige, each successive layer and its associated era has been shorter than the previous one. Green will be successful in establishing new values around human rights, empathy, and sustainability. It sets the foundation for mankind’s momentous leap into the Second Tier.

A good example of Green in business is Whole Foods Market.

Emotion that drives the transition to the next layer: Confusion and chaos

Transition from Green to Yellow: At Green, our metaphorical glass becomes full, of thoughts, feelings and responsibilities. We eventually become overloaded with compounding issues of survival, family, power, duty, success and dealing with our (now quite extensive) network of relationships.

The same thing happens to humanity at a global scale—we become overwhelmed by all these compounding issues and the very survival of our species—hence the emergence of groups like “Extinction Rebellion.” According to their website, Extinction Rebellion is “an international movement that uses non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction and minimize the risk of social collapse.”

There are protests and disruptions happening all around us today. Movements for the Climate, Black Lives Matter, Me Too, the Hong Kong rebellion, the Women’s March, political protests, human and animal rights protests, and more. The list could go on and on. In its push for human rights and equality, Green is using ongoing protest and chaos to amp up the tension that will inevitably drive change.

Clare Graves put it like this:

Picture, if you will, a Green man seated in a yoga position, contemplating his inner self. He has completed the last theme of the subsistence movement of existence. There are no new deficiency motivations to rouse him from his meditations.

In fact, he might well go on to contemplating his navel to the day of his death, if he only had some suitable arrangement to care for his daily needs. And it is quite possible for a few Green individuals to live this way.

But what happens when the majority of a population begins to arrive at the Green level of existence? Who is left to care for their daily needs? Who is left to look after the elaborate technology which assures their survival? If we return to Green man seated in his yoga position, we see that what finally disturbs him is the roof falling in on his head.

Eventually, as Graves said the roof falls in on our head and the resulting chaos creates the necessary evolutionary tension for our transformation to Yellow. At Yellow, we become disentangled from the first-tier systems, freeing up considerable emotional and psychological space, which leads to a quantum leap in our coping capacity.

This emotional freedom at Yellow is sometimes misinterpreted as coldness, however this is a misunderstanding. The information and knowledge that becomes available to us at Yellow radically transforms our perspective and our behavior. The following allegory or “nyaya” from the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy explains it better than I can.

In the twilight a man treads upon a rope, and mistaking it for a poisonous snake, jumps in hurry, and cries out in fear. His heart throbs quickly. But when a light is brought by a friend of his, he finds that it is not a snake but only a rope, and then all his fears vanish.

The Yellow perspective is like the light in this allegory. What was previously hidden to us in the first six layers is now revealed and our fears dissolve. Because we live in such a fearful world, a person who is fearless and not emotionally reactive might be seen as cold. They are also better able to cope and solve the complex problems created in the first six layers.


Graves' spiral dynamics from The Change Code

 Your Colors

I’ve created a free assessment that you can take to find out your colors. You will receive a report with the results of your assessment, showing you a ranking of your top value systems by color.

Want to learn more about Spiral Dynamics? Check out my Spiral Dynamics Resource page or read more articles on the topic including more info on each color/layer.

Your Turn

I want to hear from you. How did you first learn about Spiral Dynamics? How have you used this theory in your personal or business development? Share your experience in the comments.