INsight/ The Fragile Vase

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Photo by Geralt on Pixabay


Jakarta, 19 December 2018 — What can you learn from a 15-year old climate activist and a prime minister who believes in compromises? A lot, actually.

As political leaders, scientists, and environmentalists gathered in Katowice last week in the face of new and alarming data on our changing climate, the chorus of voices clamoring for action rang out louder than ever before. 

Stealing Their Future

There was a new sound in the debate, as high-school leaders from cities around the world decided to join the growing movement for climate action. By pioneering a school strike to sit outside the parliament building all by herself, 15-year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden set an example that was followed by like-minded young leaders in other countries.

Photo of Greta Thunberg by Common Dreams

Photo of Greta Thunberg by Common Dreams

It was picked up quickly by the media.

Impatience is a strong theme in the message of these young leaders, who commented strongly on what they see as a lack of action by politicians that amounts to Stealing Their Future. 

Rather than nurturing hope for change, taking Action is all that matters now, they argue.

A dramatic message from youth leaders, which will surely contribute to advancing the climate change negotations both within countries and at the international level.

The one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere.
— Greta Thunberg

Meanwhile, not too far from Katowice and Stockholm, another perspective on the need for change was voiced by Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands. In an open letter to the Dutch people, he compared his country to a fragile vase.

A Precious Possession

Pointing to the Brexit chaos in the UK, he reminded Dutch voters how easy it is to crush a fragile vase when you grip it too tightly or drop it. He saw the Netherlands as “a country that isn’t perfect but where we do make progress”, as a “precious possession” that belonged to everyone but “was brittle … and can easily break”.

Photo Mark Rutte by

Photo Mark Rutte by

Rutte then went on to explain the need for an inclusive approach to managing change, referring to Dutch citizens as people who “do not only want a good life for themselves and those around them, but also want to contribute to the happiness of others”.

When managing change, it is all important to make sure that the vase stays in one piece. This, he said, often requires “compromises … in which difficult problems are solved in a sensible way.” Remarkably, Rutte added that “I almost never get my way. I water down my demands because I have a responsibility to keep that vase intact.”

Collaboration and taking responsibility for the consequences of political choices is key. Yelling and telling is easy and everyone can do it, including politicians of all parties. In his open letter, Rutte compared those stirring up political division to “screaming sideline football dads”. There were plenty of those in politics, he said, “shouting stuff into microphones because they know there will never be a majority for it, so they need never be responsible for the consequences”.

Risk of Fracture

As politicians in countries around the world struggle to come up with better solutions for climate action and other wicked transnational problems, it is important to understand why making progress is so difficult.

At what points is the fragile vase most at risk of fracturing?

To get more insights into that question, we can turn to the discussion that Ken Wilber, philosopher and founder of the Integral Approach, is having with his colleague Corey DeVos, the manager of Integral Life, about conflicts in today’s political world which they examine through the lenses of The Major and Minor Scales of Integral Politics.

Listening to Wilber and DeVos, we discover that the political fault lines that might crush Rutte’s metaphorical vase can be found between a number of conflicting worldviews that are espoused by politicians and their followers.

Conflict of Worldviews

The flashpoints occur between the narrower and the more expanded worldviews. Navigating these flashpoints requires that we work harder at creating awareness of the different worldviews and how they show up in society and politics today.

There is good news and bad news in the analysis by Wilber and DeVos. The good news is that politicians are much more likely to promote solutions in support of sustainability and climate action when they embrace expanded (wider) worldviews. What we therefore need to do, according to Wilber and DeVos, is to familiarize more politicians and citizens, including youth, with these higher-level worldviews.

You can see the natural progression toward expanded worldviews in the diagram that I created below to visualize this. The model of the Fragile Vase of Development shows the natural succession of worldviews, as well as the most dangerous flashpoints that can cause the metaphorical vase to fracture.

What higher (wider) worldviews do is to give you insight in how to cope with complexity, which we have a lot of in our world today, and how to do develop solutions that are inclusive and compassionate. That, it seems to me, is what climate activists like Greta Thunberg and mature political leaders like Mark Rutte are referring to.

Embracing Higher Worldviews

What we need, according to Wilber and DeVos, are more leaders who know how to embrace at least a world-centric mindset, and who can therefore broker inclusive solutions to our transnational problems (like climate change, Brexit, and many more).

So what’s the bad news?

Research by Integral practitioners, as pointed out by Wilber and DeVos, shows that only 5 percent of the world population now embrace the two widest worldviews in the diagram (Yellow and Turquoise), and that two-thirds of the world population still live with the much narrower worldviews that are ethno-centric or lower (Purple, Red, and Blue).

These narrower views fall short of the world-centric level (Orange and Green) that we need to help us complete the difficult international negotiations for climate action (and for staying on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030).

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Wilber and DeVos also shared that tipping points in societal evolutions can be reached when a leading edge of just 10% of the population reaches a wider worldview. In that way, for example, world-centric values of equal opportunities and the human rights were adopted into law at a time when most people were still operating at narrower worldviews.

Millennials as Leading Edge

We may, therefore, be only a short time away from the moment that 10% of our population will have embraced integral worldviews (Yellow and Turquoise). From my observation, these more expanded worldviews are already showing up in more and more Millennials. That is good news, and an added reason to deliberately involve more young leaders in both national and international politics, negotiations, and governance.

Have you noted from the diagram that all of us humans make the same journey traversing worldviews from the time were born, starting with the Purple worldview of feeling secure in our family? Developmental psychologists have long known that when we experience a healthy psychological development, we will keep evolving to higher worldviews, even after we enter adulthood at age 18 or so.

On the other hand, if we don’t keep ‘growing up’ to more expanded worldviews through our lifetime, our growth is ‘arrested’ and we get stuck before reaching our potential. Since we cannot skip stages in development, what we need to focus on is education (formal and nonformal) to help everyone grow and transition to higher worldviews (stages of development).

Education for Development

Hence Wilber and DeVos’s contention that we should be in the business of Development, because that will help our countries and our global community forward to sustainability and, in the short run, climate action. Education for development means working to help more people reach higher stages of development more quickly, so that they can operate from the more inclusive and compassionate values that are inherent in these expanded worldviews.

Meanwhile, it is evident that politicians and citizens who are driven by different worldviews will speak different languages. To bridge these political divides, we need to start by creating more productive conversations across these divides.

There is simply no way that we can bridge divides until we learn to listen and understand the worldview of our audience from the language they speak. Then, to find common ground and build trust for collaboration, we need to practice having more effective conversations that touch both the head and the heart.

This explains my passion for helping leaders improve their communication, so that they can connect people with different worldviews. Now you know one of the important reasons why I created the Work In All Colors training, which will help you learn what each of the seven worldviews sounds like in your everday work and life, and how you can practice speaking to people with different worldviews in their language.

How does this post land with you? Let me know if you have questions.

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