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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Susan Rhodes is a cognitive psychologist with an ongoing research interest in individual differences, psychospiritual systems, and transformational processes. She has been exploring the both the enneagram and Ken Wilber's work since 2000 and started writing articles addressed to an enneagram audience about the links between the two systems in 2005. She has also written two books about the enneagram (The Positive Enneagram and Archetypes of the Enneagram) and is working on a third: The Integral Enneagram.

"The World Would Be Okay If...."

Integral Politics in a
Less-than-Integral Age

The other day, I devised a little exercise in order to try to sort out how different people think about life. It's pretty simple; it consists of filling in the following blank:

"The world would be okay if people could just.... _______________________________."

Then I started filling in the blank from different points of view, to see what I could learn. For example, if we use the AQAL worldviews, we might get something like this:

"The world would be okay if people could just....

"become more introspective." "practice meditation." "be more personally authentic."
"become more rational." "become less emotional." "rely more on science than subjectivity."
"develop common ideals." "care for one another." "get more involved in their community."
"broaden their outlook." "be more politically aware." "develop more functional systems."

If we use a system like the enneagram (with which I work a lot), we can come up with another set of responses, depending upon an individual's enneagram point of view:

"The world would be okay if people could just....

"live up to their ideals." "stand on principle." "develop more self-discipline & social awareness." type 1 (idealist, perfecter, activist)
"love other people." "give of themselves completely." "see every living creature as deserving of respect." type 2 (giver, carer, helper)
"develop the practical skills to help themselves." "become more realistic and willing to compromise." "learn to roll with the punches." type 3 (pragmatist, self-tester,competitor )
"know themselves." "be true to their deepest values." "emotionally commit to what they believe." type 4 (seeker, originator, deep sea diver)
"become more rational and less emotional." "more adept at objective inquiry." "be unattached to outcomes." type 5 (thinker, rationalist, puzzle-solver)
"overcome their fears." "replace fear with courage." "understand how service & duty help keep us safe. " type 6 ("cowardly lion," overcomer, steward)
"become more broad-minded." "teach their kids via creative play & experiential learning ." "develop a shared vision for the future." type 7 (visionary, creator, experimenter)
"take responsibility for their actions." "stop thinking and start acting." "understand power & how to lead." type 8 (leader, master, power-broker)
"give peace a chance." "learn to get along." "see both sides of an issue." type 9 (mediator, harmonizer, peaceful activist)

We can also play this game with political points of view. If we do, we might get something like this:

"The world would be okay if people could just...."

"stop imposing their values on others." "become more responsive and interdependent." "abandon the idea of rugged individualism."
"return to the values that made this country great." "become more responsible and independent." "realize the preciousness of individual liberty."

Now if we look at each of these statements, what do we see? A lot of good ideas, all of them having merit—but none of them possessing the whole truth. And that's just the point: whatever we come up with (however true and however deserving of our consideration), it will be a partial truth reflecting a partial point of view. As a result, the only way to come up with a world in which all points of view get due consideration is to understand the partiality of any given point of view and make it a priority to encourage both a diversity of values and communication among those championing each view. Of course, what happens more often is that we promote the views we favor and try to destroy (or at least discourage) the ones we don't. We do it by adopting a rhetorical approach intentionally designed to polarize people's' thinking, turning subtle differences in emphasis into black-and-white opposites that become impossible to reconcile. We choose a side and tell others they have to do that, too. Then we all hunker down and pull together to defeat our enemy.


As I write this paragraph, it's five days before the 2012 American Presidential election. I can't turn on the TV or pick up my home phone without being harangued by some political party or candidate telling me they can solve all my problems if only I'll give them my vote. My main response is to turn off the TV and let the answering machine take care of the phone, because I know that most of their claims are grossly exaggerated and hard to evaluate. Yes, I would like to understand the issues and vote in an informed way, but it can be tough to sort out the truth from the lies, given the political frenzy abroad in the land.

I don't know who will win the Presidential race, but I'm pretty sure it's not someone with an identifiably integral perspective, because everyone I see running is doing the same thing politicians always do: polarizing the populace and villanizing the opposition (sigh). I'm not such a pessimist that I think this can't change—I'm certain it can. But I'm not sure this is happening quite yet (at least not in a visible way). So what is an integrally-oriented person to do?

Writing on the Integral Institute website, Terry Patten thinks we should support Obama because he's more integral than Romney. Writing on Integral World, Elliott Benjamin rejects some of Patten's arguments but eventually arrives at the same conclusion (to support Obama) while Bryan O'Doherty protests that neither candidate is integral and therefore urges us to boycott the whole darned voting process. All three express the frustration that a lot of us feel when confronted with a system whose lack of truly integral solutions seems most painfully evident just before Election Day.

But unlike these writers, I don't feel all that frustrated. When I think about why, I guess it's because for a while now, I've no longer expected to find perfection in either the political system or a political candidate, whatever their views. While I'm not blind to the problems in the world, I know that even in a perfect world, there would still be problems, both personal and cultural. There would still be resistances, conflicts, and other difficulties that are hard to avoid, if for no other reason than that we live in a physical universe with the kind of limitations that will always make it challenging to integrate the opposites.

At the same time, I see that while it's hard, it's not impossible. Enneagram work is useful for this purpose, for example, because it makes us aware not only that our point of view is indeed partial but that other people have perfectly valid points of view which are also partial. This understanding promotes tolerance and a willingness to try to bridge the gap between seemingly opposing points of view.

AQAL can do the same, by showing us four different worldviews, each of which allows us to see life from a different perspective. We can see which views we tend to favor and cultivate those that are not our first choice, thereby becoming more integral in outlook. We don't have to give up our preferred worldview, simply to expand it to include others.

Of course, it's always easier to talk about integration than to do it. Integral work is hard because it means getting up-close-and-personal with things we really don't like very much! It means bringing together energies that don't always mix well and figuring out some way to create a synthesis (instead of an explosion). It's an interesting process when it works, because it always creates something new that not only blends but transcends the opposites.

For me, the process begins when I allow myself to turn towards the very thing that initially repels me, engaging with it in a way that allows it to become familiar and therefore relatable. If I do it sincerely (not just so I can say I tried!), I eventually start to "feel something working"—to feel something new beginning to emerge, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. At some point, a shift occurs, and what was once a win/lose proposition is transformed into a win/win scenario. And it's not just somewhere "out there" in the world—it's part of me and the person I'm becoming.

This work helps me with my frustrations because—while I can't always change the outer circumstances that give rise to frustration—I can always change my response. I can always work on integrating the opposites until I get to a point of genuine resolution. Ironically, when the transformation is genuine, I often find that my outer environment begins to mirror my inner state.

Perhaps I am naïve, but I believe that if enough people would do this, it would radically change the world. So I guess my own way of completing the statement would be

"The world would be okay if people could just understand their power
to transform it through inner change."

How would you complete it? What do you believe about the world and your power to change it? How does that belief affect your life? How does it affect your environment?

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