Afoot with Don Beck in the Middle East
On November 12, 2004, the day Yasser Arafat was buried in Ramallah, I landed in Ben Gurion airport. Ten days earlier I had watched a team of professional movers disassemble my cozy Manhattan apartment and stuff the contents into 117 cardboard boxes bound to follow me across the Atlantic to my new home, Tel Aviv. After the movers left I stood alone in the bare-walled living room and in the eerie silence I questioned my decision to relocate. Only my closest friends knew that rationality wasn’t the principle guiding my move; my decision was informed by the call of intuition. The synchronicity of these two events – my arrival and Arafat’s departure – made an odd impression on me. I was overcome by the sense that I was been guided to the Holy Land by the veiled hand of Destiny. My lingering doubts about the move evaporated. I was sure I was in the right place, though I still didn’t know why.
I found a sunlit flat in south Tel Aviv and settled into my new life. Winter crossed over into spring. One afternoon, as I was nostalgically leafing through a dog-eared Wilberian tome, I decided to learn more about the local Integral community. Although I was hobnobbing with a group of hip trendsetters I longed for the company of Integral companions. A few weeks later at a lecture on Integral Kaballah at Rabbi Marc Gafni’s center in Jaffa I met Oren Entin and Neri Bar-On, the co-founders of the Integral Israel Salon. I recognized them as kindred souls and I joined their group. After a few meetings I noticed a pattern recurring whenever we met. Invariably any topic we brought up for discussion eventually shape shifted into the same subject matter: Spiral Dynamics and the Middle East conflict.
Spiral Dynamics is a theory co-developed by Don Beck that models the way value systems evolve in individuals and societies. According to the theory values are adaptive codes of intelligence that develop in sequential order to deal with problems of increasing degrees of complexity. Each value system is like a pair of prescription glasses that filters consciousness through a unique perspective. The theory identifies seven value systems that have evolved cross-culturally over the sweep of human history and an eighth that is emerging. For ease of reference the eight systems are assigned color codes, each of which represents the core value that governs the social dynamics at that level of development. They include: Beige (survival), Purple (safety), Red (power), Blue (authority), Orange (progress), Green (humanitarianism), Yellow (integral development) and Turquoise (holistic self-awareness).
The members of the salon used the language of Spiral Dynamics to analyze the deep level structures fueling the strife between Israeli and Palestinian societies. We analyzed the inter- and intra-group dynamics of both cultures and speculated about the policies local leaders and the International community could orchestrate to precipitate a regional transformation of consciousness that would uplift values from egocentric Red, to ethnocentric Blue, to worldcentric Orange values and beyond. As our discussions became progressively more insightful we became increasingly frustrated that the discourse was limited to our small talking circle.
Late one evening Neri and I were swiping clean a plate of hummus with oven-fresh baked pita bread in the old Yemenite Quarter. Our conversation was commandeered by the powerful Spiral Dynamics Middle East magnet.
After a lull I blurted out. “Let’s invite Don Beck to Israel.” My enthusiasm crested. “He used Spiral Dynamics to pave the way for the smooth transfer of power between F.W. DeKlerk and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Maybe he can help Israelis and Palestinians build a bridge across our great cultural divide.”
Neri leaned back on his plastic chair and looked up at the stars.
“That would be amazing.” His eyes were twinkling. “But I have a question.”
“What is it?”
“Don is a busy man. How do we get him here?”
“I don’t have a clue.” I replied. “But I do know one thing. This region is poised for transformation and I believe Don can help jumpstart the process. We’ll figure out a way.”
The answer to Neri’s question came a few weeks later from an unexpected quarter. Destiny pointed the way forward through a series of incredible synchronicities: In early June I learned that I had to return to New York at the end of the month to tend to some private matters. A few days later Oren announced that he would also be New York on business during the same period. Before leaving we learned that Don Beck would be making his first-ever New York City presentation of Spiral Dynamics on June 25th.
The stars were lining up.
Oren and I signed up for Don’s lecture. Although it was a general presentation he continuously brought up Israel, Palestine and Spiral Dynamics. The Middle East magnet was reeling him in too. We felt like he was addressing us directly. The session ended. The moderator announced break time. Oren and I felt a surge of energy well up inside. The moment was ripe. We walked up to the front of the room. There was a circle of people around Don. We waited on the sidelines until the crowd thinned out. The three of us were standing alone. As I spoke I felt the hard edge of time soften.
“Hi Don.” I said, “My friend Oren and I live in Israel. We’re members of the Integral Israel Salon and we’d like to invite you to come and make a presentation about Spiral Dynamics and the Arab Israeli conflict.”
Don looked us over for a few seconds.
“All right.” He said. “Send me an email with more information and we’ll work out the details.”
“Okay. We’ll be in touch.” Oren replied.
Don simply nodded and walked off.
The exchange lasted only a brief moment but Don had accepted our invitation. I felt as though I was gliding through a lucid dream.
Neri, Oren and I were fired up. Over the next six months we worked diligently to plan his visit. I had never worked on a project with Integral teammates. The experience was inspiring. We flex-flowed our way through obstacles. There were no egotistical flare ups or narcissistic power plays. The process unfolded naturally and Don’s itinerary self-organized almost effortlessly.
Don arrived on February 4th accompanied by Elza Maalouf and Susan Vance. Elza is an extraordinary Lebanese woman who introduced Spiral Dynamics to the Arab world. Don asked her to join him in Israel and she graciously accepted. Her participation was invaluable. The admixture of a Texan and an Arab jointly advocating an Integral view of the Middle East is a powerful paradigm buster that short circuited rigid stereotypes on both sides. Susan Vance is the able representative of John J. Smith, the visionary sponsor that funded the entire project.
The trio spent a week in Israel. They met with influential change-makers, academics and politicians in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Don met Professor Ephraim Ya’ar of Tel Aviv University the creator of the Peace Index which tracks the crests and troughs of public sentiment. He lunched with Gilead Sher, a senior Israeli negotiator of the Camp David peace accords, and Dalia Rabin, the late Prime Minister’s daughter. He presented the Spiral Dynamics to a group of professors at Bar Ilan University. One of them was so enthused by the presentation that he decided to teach a graduate level course on Spiral Dynamics next semester. One evening Don and Rabbi Marc Gafni explored the relationship between the human values and religion in a lively dialogue. On February 10th Don and Elza made the first ever public presentation of SDi in Israel. One hundred and fifty people attended.
With the help of Tom Christensen and Nafiz Rifaee, Elza organized a packed day trip to Bethlehem. We crossed the separation fence on the morning of February 7th. Don met with Salah Al Taamari, the Governor of Bethlehem. Then he was introduced to three members of the Palestinian Parliament: Mohmed Khalil Laham, Fouad Kareem Saliba and Issa Abdul Hamid Qaraqi. Finally, Don and Elza co-presented Spiral Dynamics to a group of forty people that included professors from Bethlehem University, city council members and government employees.
Don’s message to Palestinians and Israelis was incisive and insightful. The fundamental conflict in the Middle East, he explained, is not between Jews and Muslims or Arabs and Israelis. Framing the conflict in terms of race, ethnicity and religion clouds the deeper level of complexity driving tensions. Spiral Dynamics considers conflict through the lens of value systems. Palestinians and Israelis can both express animistic Purple, heroic Red, saintly Blue, scientific Orange, egalitarian Green and integral Yellow perspectives. Each society is marked by its unique value systems stack and its cultural center of gravity will determine the general character of the collective. This balance point can shift up the Spiral of development or down, and at any level the value system can be expressed in a healthy or unhealthy way.
A conflict resolution model that marginalizes the capacity for collective human consciousness to transform is bound to develop a narrow vision based on information derived exclusively from surface level categories. Such a flatlander model is incapable of recognizing that the perspective of an emancipated Orange Muslim woman is more in alignment with the perspective of an emancipated Orange Jewish woman than the views of a traditional Blue Muslim woman. It will lump Muslims and Jews into two monolithic categories and remain insensitive to the vertical inter-group dynamics that often drive the horizontal intra-group conflict. A model that focuses exclusively on surface level variables will find itself flat footed whenever it encounters a leap in human development.
Don emphasized that the topography of Palestinian and Israeli values must be considered before the way forward can be mapped out effectively. What do the value stacks of Israeli and Palestinian society look like? Where are their centers of gravity situated? What is the way forward? The following analysis is an initial evaluation based on Don’s presentations during his week long visit to the region.
Palestine and the Spiral: Until recently life conditions in Palestine established the cultural center of gravity at egocentric Red. The chronic corruption that characterized Fatah rule was an unhealthy expression of the strongman Red value system. The rallying call of the Hamas election for reform, lawfulness and accountability represents values rooted in the orderly Blue value system. The unexpected Hamas victory signals a shift to a higher-level value structure in Palestinian society. But fundamentalist Blue is an ethnocentric value system unable to rise above the religious and racial identity that gives it meaning and purpose. Authentic peace becomes possible only when the next system emerges, worldcentric Orange.
Israel and the Spiral: Before the second Intifada began the Israeli center of gravity registered between liberal Orange and humanitarian Green. Disappointment with the failed peace initiatives and worsening life conditions severely discredited the peace movement. Conciliatory Green was weakened and nationalistic Blue gained strength. But the favorable standing of the centrist Kadima party on the eve of the election signals that Israeli society remains solidly entrenched at strategic Orange. The Hamas victory did not substantially alter Israeli support for Kadima. Unless the Israeli center of gravity dips into zealous Blue, the nation remains poised to strike a deal when an Orange Palestinian partner emerges.
The way forward: The Israeli and Palestinian centers of gravity are currently situated just one value system apart, Israel rooted at Orange and Palestine budding into Blue. From the perspective of Spiral Dynamics the values gap separating Israeli and Palestinian societies has narrowed. But conditions for peace are not yet ripe. Orange is the first worldcentric value system to emerge on the Spiral and both sides must be centered at that level before ethnocentric perspectives can be transcended. What can be realistically expected from Blue centered Palestine are hudnas, temporary agreements and long term ceasefires. A critical mass of Orange values will have to develop in Palestine before conditions favoring sustainable peace can emerge. When that level is reached the mutual desire of both peoples to thrive and help thrive will naturally arise. At that stage war becomes a dinosaur.
The international community can do much more to support the natural process of regional development than simply offer the parties money and technology. The inter-subjective dimension has to be considered. Complex thinkers involved in shaping the geo-political map of the region must take into account a new variable: the evolution of human consciousness. Their reasoning will be greatly empowered by incorporating the principles of Spiral Dynamics into their calculus.
Once upon a time France and England were bitter foes. They fought bloody wars and perpetuated gruesome massacres. Both nations were embedded in ethnocentric perspectives that legitimized their unholy acts. Today the values of both countries are grounded above ethnocentric Blue on the Spiral. The French and Britons have not relinquished their ethnic identities. Their cultural flavors remain as distinct as bouillabaisse and roast beef. But both people have subordinated their ethnocentrism to the liberal Orange and humanitarian Green worldcentric values that inform their current worldview. Someday, bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians will be as inconceivable as hostilities between Londoners and Parisians.
My Israeli integral friends and I are cautiously optimistic that Don Beck can help unfurl the regional development of consciousness like a fiery whirlwind across the desert sands. We are deeply grateful for his courage and commitment to helping all parties realize a brighter tomorrow. There is an old legend that the Messiah will arrive in Jerusalem dressed in white. One day we booked a day tour of the Holy City. As we entered the main plaza in front of the Western Wall I noticed Don was wearing white trousers, a white polo shirt and white sneakers.
I pointed out Don’s outfit to Neri.
“Do you think that’s just a coincidence?” I quipped.
Don was snapping pictures of the ancient Jewish Temple and the Dome of the Rock rising above it like a golden sun.
Neri smiled “This is Jerusalem. Anything is possible.”
This article was first published in the Integral Leadership Review
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