Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Brief History of Everything

A Brief History of Everything
A Brief History of Everything, by Ken Wilber
  • Shambhala; 2 edition (February 6, 2001)

In this book, Wilber attempts to develop a unified theory of existence. The author makes several distinctions that are helpful in reframing our everyday experience. The book, although ‘thick’, is presented in an engaging dialogue in which Wilber practices inquiry with himself, revealing his inner assumptions and logic. This book, in my opinion, has some brilliant gems and a lot of dross. A good editor could really have helped. Nonetheless, I have been able to use some these gems with clients to help them understand their own experience and beliefs. Two gems that were meaningful to me were the theory of holons and the review and expansion upon the stages of development.

The theory of holons, originally introduced by Arthur Koestler, states that every thing is a whole and is part of something else. For example, in a team setting, individuals would be considered wholes but also parts of the team. The team is a whole that is part of the organization, a whole that is part of an industry, etc. I point out to my clients that all their actions as individual wholes have effects on the team and the behavior of the team is inextricably linked to the organization. Therefore, awareness of their own behavior choices is crucial to team success. This distinction allows entry into the realm of personal mastery and allows me as a coach to establish the platform from which to launch a coaching conversation beyond task.

The theory of holons also posits that there are four characteristics of holons: The drive for agency (recognition of the individual), the drive for communion (synergy into the group), the drive to transcend (creative synergy) the current form, and the drive to dissolve (breakup because of issues involving autonomy or communion) into composite wholes. This basic understanding allows me to have a philosophy of team that supports team dynamics research and practice.

Another gem, “ evolution of consciousness,” reminded me of the understandings I already have of the stages of development in human beings based on Kolberg, Maslow, Gilliam, Erikson, and others. His excellent distinction was the nesting of the stages in holons. This marriage of holon theory with stages of development allows one to consider the four characteristics of holons (agency, communion, transcendence and dissolution) to growth patterns of developing consciences in myself and my clients.

I have come to appreciate that I need to meet the client at the stage of development they currently inhabit and work with them toward creative emergence of the next stage. With this in mind, for example, I can avoid using formal operations logic when individuals are operating at the concrete stage. This understanding is sending me back to my instructional theory books for method that include the types of questions that will stimulate growth for individuals at different stages of development.

Wilber also offers the distinction of a three-step process for moving from one level to another: (1) The self is aware of the new level of consciousness and identifies with it or fuses, (2) the self differentiates itself, or transcends; (3) it identifies with the new level and centers itself there. Each change in stage of development creates a new worldview and moral and ethical stance. Taking this further, my experience is that these transitions can also create emotional upheavals and life changes that need support from the coach as they are happening.