Sign Up for Our Bi-Weekly Email

Expand your perspective with thought-provoking insights, quotes, and videos hand-picked by our editors—along with the occasional update about the world of EnlightenNext.

Privacy statement

Your email address is kept confidential, and will never be published, sold or given away without your explicit consent. Thank you for joining our mailing list!


The Never-Ending Upward Quest

A WIE Editor Encounters the Practical and Spiritual Wisdom of Spiral Dynamics

An interview with Dr. Don Beck
by Jessica Roemischer


I think I'm beginning to see people as colors! Having just immersed myself for the past three months in Spiral Dynamics—an incisive and far—reaching theory of human development—I can say without exaggeration that Spiral Dynamics is, indeed, one of the major breakthroughs in mapping and managing complexity—that complexity being us. Our diverse worldviews, our beliefs, our very identities, represented by eight "memes," or value systems, which apply as much to individuals as to entire cultures. And, as I am discovering, this dynamic spiral-shaped model of human consciousness, with its hierarchy of color-coded memes, is literally coloring my perception.

I was at a friend's wedding and suddenly realized that I was seeing the BLUE (absolutist) meme in the conservatively-dressed woman wearing a crucifix, the ORANGE (achievist) meme in the young go-getter with the Rolex, the GREEN (egalitarian) meme in the aging bearded hippie. And not only that—I'm beginning to see just how "GREEN" I am, with my longing for communal living and acceptance, my strong bias against corporations and political conservatives, and my passion for environmental causes, even though I am, admittedly, attached to driving my Audi (ORANGE), fast (RED—impulsive)!

Should I be worried? Am I typecasting other people, and myself, with these apparently broad-brushed, color-coded characterizations called "memes"? Is the Spiral Dynamics model, comprised of these memes, simply a convenient way to avoid having to grapple with the complexity and diversity of human beings and the challenge to discern who we really are? On the contrary, I have been finding that, rather than a cold analytical detachment or one-dimensional perspective, Spiral Dynamics is giving rise to a profound clarity of insight into the sweeping patterns of human psychologies, beliefs, and values (including my own) that are, often unconsciously, guiding our choices and shaping our very identities. Spiral Dynamics is also resulting in an unexpected and liberating objectivity because it places my own experience in the context of the entire history of human psychological development, the totality of which is present in each of us—from the most primitive survivalist instincts (BEIGE) to evolved spiritual aspirations (TURQUOISE), with, in my case, a good dose of righteous eco-egalitarianism (GREEN) thrown in!

But why a spiral, you might ask? Spirals are a dynamic expression of natural and cosmic forces, a "dominant universal fractal" evident in everything from our DNA code to the spiraling galaxies that inhabit the universe. Spiral Dynamics posits that the evolution of human consciousness can best be represented in this way: by a dynamic, upward spiraling structure that charts our evolving thinking systems as they arc higher and higher through levels of increasing complexity. Certainly, human consciousness has dramatically increased in complexity over the span of millennia, as evidenced by our fast-paced highly interactive world. But, despite any illusions I may have about how far up the spiral I am in my technology-rich postmodern life, according to Spiral Dynamics, we human beings are only just emerging from the first great episode of human history—a 100,000-year epoch defined fundamentally by survivalism: the Spiral's "First Tier."

Dr. Don E. Beck has been developing, teaching, and implementing Spiral Dynamics for nearly three decades. Transmitting the genuinely inclusive or "integral" perspective that is the essence of the Spiral Dynamics model, Beck portrays the vast tapestry of global cultures with the care, insight, and easy familiarity with which one might speak about the members of one's extended family, each with their unique capacities and challenges. And this evolved humanitarianism conveys Beck's passionate and sincere conviction that Spiral Dynamics can resolve the immense challenges and responsibilities we face at this juncture in history.

Indeed, one could call Don Beck a philosopher-activist for the new millennium. As cofounder of the National Values Center in Denton, Texas, and President and CEo of the Spiral Dynamics Group, Inc., a global enterprise, he is, by his own definition, a "Spiral Wizard," employing the Spiral Dynamics model to effect large-scale systems change in and among various sectors and societies of the world. Together with Christopher Cowan, he wrote Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change in 1996, which is based on and enhances the groundbreaking "Value Systems" theory of human development proposed by the late Professor Clare Graves. Beck's long consulting career has taken him to such diverse settings as 10 Downing Street, to meet with members of Tony Blair's Policy Unit; inner-city Chicago, to address the difficulties faced by educational institutions there; the World Bank, to address the future of Afghanistan; and the boardrooms of major banks, energy companies, airlines, and government agencies.

Don Beck has discussed racial issues with President Bill Clinton and deep reconciliation strategies with President Nelson Mandela, playing a central role in the peaceful creation of a democratic South Africa, for which he received a legislative honor in 1996 in his home state of Texas. More recently, he has joined forces with integral philosopher Ken Wilber and President of the Arlington Institute John Petersen, among others, to make Spiral Dynamics an even more powerful tool "for managing large-scale interventions, change, and transformation"—a new initiative called "Spiral Dynamics integral" (SDi).

Drawing from his vast experience, Dr. Beck illustrates why Spiral Dynamics is invaluable for anyone who sincerely recognizes the necessity for human transformation and global reconciliation at this critical and all-demanding period in history. And indeed, as one becomes familiar with Spiral Dynamics, it easily becomes apparent why this compelling theory is called nothing less than "a new definition of human nature [and of the] evolutionary significance of human intelligence."

Spiral Dynamics

The Eight-Stage Spiral of Development

Second Tier: "Being" valueMEMES

TURQUOISE Holistic MEME—starting 30 years ago
Basic theme: Experience the wholeness of existence through mind and spirit
  • The world is a single, dynamic organism with its own collective mind
  • Self is both distinct and a blended part of a larger, compassionate whole
  • Everything connects to everything else in ecological alignments
  • Energy and information permeate the Earth's total environment
  • Holistic, intuitive thinking and cooperative actions are to be expected

YELLOW Integrative MEME—starting 50 years ago
Basic theme: Live fully and responsibly as what you are and learn to become
  • Life is a kaleidoscope of natural hierarchies, systems, and forms
  • The magnificence of existence is valued over material possessions
  • Flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality have the highest priority
  • Differences can be integrated into interdependent, natural flows
  • Understands that chaos and change are natural

"What I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiraling process, marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as man's existential problems change."
Dr. Clare Graves

First Tier: "Subsistence" valueMEMES

GREEN Communitarian/Egalitarian MEME - starting 150 years ago
Basic theme: Seek peace within the inner self and explore, with others, the caring dimensions of community
  • The human spirit must be freed from greed, dogma, and divisiveness
  • Feelings, sensitivity, and caring supersede cold rationality
  • Spreads the Earth's resources and opportunities equally among all
  • Reaches decisions through reconciliation and consensus processes
  • Refreshes spirituality, brings harmony, and enriches human development

ORANGE Achievist/Strategic MEME - starting 300 years ago
Basic theme: Act in your own self-interest by playing the game to win
  • Change and advancement are inherent within the scheme of things
  • Progresses by learning nature's secrets and seeking out best solutions
  • Manipulates Earth's resources to create and spread the abundant good life
  • Optimistic, risk-taking, and self-reliant people deserve success
  • Societies prosper through strategy, technology, and competitiveness

BLUE Purposeful/Authoritarian MEME - starting 5,000 years ago
Basic theme: Life has meaning, direction, and purpose with predetermined outcomes
  • One sacrifices self to the transcendent Cause, Truth, or righteous Pathway
  • The Order enforces a code of conduct based on eternal, absolute principles
  • Righteous living produces stability now and guarantees future reward
  • Impulsivity is controlled through guilt; everybody has their proper place
  • Laws, regulations, and discipline build character and moral fiber

RED Impulsive/Egocentric MEME - starting 10,000 years ago
Basic theme: Be what you are and do what you want, regardless
  • The world is a jungle full of threats and predators
  • Breaks free from any domination or constraint to please self as self desires
  • Stands tall, expects attention, demands respect, and calls the shots
  • Enjoys self to the fullest right now without guilt or remorse
  • Conquers, out-foxes, and dominates other aggressive characters

PURPLE Magical/Animistic MEME - starting 50,000 years ago
Basic theme: Keep the spirits happy and the tribe's nest warm and safe
  • Obeys the desires of the spirit being and mystical signs
  • Shows allegiance to chief, elders, ancestors, and the clan
  • Individual subsumed in group
  • Preserves sacred objects, places, events, and memories
  • Observes rites of passage, seasonal cycles, and tribal customs

BEIGE Instinctive/Survivalistic MEME - starting 100,000 years ago
Basic theme: Do what you must just to stay alive
  • Uses instincts and habits just to survive
  • Distinct self is barely awakened or sustained
  • Food, water, warmth, sex, and safety have priority
  • Forms into survival bands to perpetuate life
  • Lives "off the land" much as other animals


Subscribe to What Is Enlightenment? magazine today and get 40% off the cover price.

Subscribe Give a gift Renew