Lines of Development

By Chris Chittenden

"I am continually fascinated at the difficulty intelligent people have in distinguishing what is controversial from what is merely offensive."

… Nora Ephron (b. 1941) US Author and Screenwriter

Have you ever wondered why some people who seem so smart can act so dumb? If you have then here is a way of understanding how this happens.

Back in September 2006, our newsletter spoke to the idea of personal growth. We distinguished this as the move to worldviews of greater complexity from egocentric to ethnocentric to global centric. This progression sees individuals and societies go through stages or waves of development allowing for a capacity to observe and deal with increasingly complex situations. The general pattern of this growth also sees an alternating shift in the balance of priority between self and community meaning that some stages of development are self-focused and alternate stages are community focused.

What I didn't speak about in that newsletter was that these stages of development also involve lines of development such as cognitive, moral, linguistic, emotional and so on. People do not necessarily move along each of these lines of development together and can become stuck at a certain level whilst moving forward at others. For example, an individual can be able to deal with great complexity in the cognitive domain yet be poorly developed in dealing with moral or emotional issues.

The work of Howard Gardner and others on the multiple intelligences shows that there is far more to human capacity than just IQ. However most people in our society still tend to think of intelligence as largely relating to the cognitive domain and so tend to think of being smart as being exclusively cognitively well developed. Our education system perpetuates this approach with its emphasis on our cognitive capacity.

Although the development of our cognitive capacity is important, the lack of emphasis on developing our capacity in the relational domains such as how to relate to others and the underpinning ethics and morals creates some challenging situations. Individuals can find themselves highly skilled in technical domains but unable to have enriching relationships with those around them and also be unable to influence others. Organisations can end up with leaders and members who have high cognitive capacities but low ethics, leading us to situations like Enron and the recent global financial crisis. Societies can become less and less caring environments in which to live.

Ultimately personal growth involves more than just becoming more knowledgeable. It is about our ability to take what we know and apply it in the context of greater complexity based on the perspectives of all those involved. To do that means being able to get a sense of how others interpret the same situation and to do that involves understanding the human condition that generates those interpretations. Now there is an area for life-long learning!

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© 2014 Chris Chittenden