Comments: Phases of human development through challenging problems
Human Development Project |
1. Experiential phases and modes
The contents of the core sections of this Encyclopedia might be understood
as linked over time in terms of the problems and values encountered under
different challenges to human development. There are many concepts of the
phases of human development (Section H). The possibility of such an ordering
might best be illustrated through one which links such phases to value
It is instructive, for some purposes, to view phases as succeeding each
other in time, possibly over a life cycle. It can also be useful to view
such phases as being possible at any stage of a life cycle, but with different
probabilities. It may therefore be more fruitful to consider that an individual
of any physical age can be at different experiential ages with respect
to each value dilemma.
Different people may thus be faced by different dilemmas at the same
stage of life cycle, or by the same dilemmas when they are at different
stages of a life cycle.
2. Value crises in a life cycle
In Erik Erikson's scheme (Childhood and Society, 1963), each
individual goes through 8 stages in life. In each stage a value crisis
is experienced which is crucial for continued development. The stages,
with their corresponding crises are as follows:
Infancy (basic trust vs. basic mistrust)
Early childhood (autonomy vs. doubt)
Play age (initiative vs. guilt)
School age (industry vs. inferiority)
Adolescence (identity vs. role confusion)
Young adulthood (intimacy vs. isolation)
Adulthood (generativity vs. stagnation or self-absorption)
Mature adulthood (integrity vs despair)
Note that each value conflict is not resolved once and for all at the time
the stage is traversed. It arises again at each subsequent stage of development.
In transcending each crisis, it is neither necessary nor desirable to eliminate
the negative portion of the value-polarity. The challenge is to ensure
the emergence of an appropriate balance or dynamic between the two value
extremes at each stage.
Resolution of any value dilemma cannot readily be based on any formula
or argument. Whilst there may be logical arguments concerning the nature
of the appropriate balance, these will be challenged by subtleties of experience
that will highlight the existence of degrees of freedom other than those
encompassed by any explicable pattern of concepts.
3. Moral and ethical dilemmas (virtues and sins)
An effort has been made by Donald Capps (Deadly Sins and Saving Virtues,
1987) to relate the stages in this life-cycle theory to the traditional
basic sins and corresponding virtues of the Christian tradition (taking
into account reservations concerning male bias noted by critics of Erikson's
original theory). This is of interest because of the view that such root
sins engender other problems by a sort of "domino effect". Analogous views
can be found in other traditions, notably the Buddhist.
To make such an inquiry more topical, such root afflictions, or psycho-social
traps, need to be recognized at a group level rather than solely
at the individual level. In this way the link to societal problems
is more firmly established.
Capps associates a "deadly sin" with each stage. Each such sin is appropriate
to the corresponding stage as a prominent factor in the moral or spiritual
life of that period, whose basic psychodynamics it reflects. The sins are
not rigidly tied to particular stages but are linked to them through their
common psychodynamics. Sins may thus emerge earlier or later than the stage
with which they are primarily associated. Capps elaborates an 8-fold set
of sins in the following sequence corresponding to the above stages: gluttony,
anger, greed, envy, pride, lust, apathy, melancholy. There are striking
resemblances to the Buddhist equivalents (see Section PZ).
4. Group sins or afflictions
With increasing reference in the 1980s to "corporate greed", it is interesting
to explore the possible collective equivalents to these sins. In the light
of Capps analysis, these might run as follows:
5. Appropriate responses and saving virtues
Excessive consumption of resources, especially energy
Collective anger, especially expressed in violence
Collective greed, especially in the accumulation of resources
Collective envy, especially for resources controlled by others
Collective pride, typically as arrogance and triumphalism
Collective lust for power, typically as expansionism
Collective apathy, typically in response to emerging problems
Collective despair, typically in acknowledging current impotence and in
recollecting past failures
Traditionally, and as developed by Erikson and Capps, there are characteristic
saving virtues through which people can most effectively respond to the
above sins. Equivalents are to be found in the Buddhist and other traditions.
These too tend to become particularly significant at different stages of
the life-cycle. Using the same sequence, they are as follows, again expressed
in terms of what might be their collective equivalents:
Hope, which is expressed both individually and collectively
Will (or Courage), especially in frequent appeals for the "generation of
the political will to change"
Purpose (or Dedication), increasingly evident in the formulation of "mission
statements" and implicit in "resolutions"
Competence (or Discipline), increasingly stressed as vital for effective
Fidelity or Loyalty, increasingly a concern of corporate human relations
programmes and security procedures
Love, increasingly explicit in "green" approaches to the environment and
traditionally implicit in recognition of the "brotherhood of mankind"
Care, especially evident in relief programmes
Wisdom, occasionally acknowledged in calls for collective wisdom and statesmanship
In the Buddhist tradition, the equivalents might be considered to be the
component elements of the Eightfold Noble Path:
6. Implications for sustainable development
Right rapture of concentration.
From this perspective the challenge of sustainable development is one
of both comprehending and giving form to balance. It is the imbalanced
resolution of the value dilemmas which engenders problems. The difficulty
is that whilst it may be easy to talk of "balance", it is quite another
matter to comprehend its nature in practice (as is readily appreciated
in learning to ride a bicycle). The dynamic balance, or Buddhist "middle
way", involves eight degrees of freedom, when expressed in terms such as
7. Proactive response to the challenge of appropriateness
It is ironic that understanding of any such scheme of sins and virtues
in the West tends to be somewhat passive, in that any significance it has
is determined by the slow development through a life-cycle. Any battles
against "sin" remain private and personal matters, without any sense of
strategy, as with the cultivation of "virtues". In this sense any form
of personal improvement is considered to be largely an illusion within
establishment institutions and disciplines (except under the guise of acquisition
of marketable skills by training and experience).
By contrast, spiritual traditions in the East appear to challenge this
passive determinism, rejecting the fatalistic subjection to the current
life-cycle in favour of programmes of spiritual disciplines with acknowledged
phases and insights through which the individual is transformed. The West
has developed sciences of "development" designed to transform society,
whilst assuming that human beings themselves only change through ageing
and the acquisition of skills. The East has developed sciences of personal
transformation, whilst assuming that any effects on society are lacking
in lasting significance. The West has focused on the growth of society,
neglecting the growth of the individual. The East has done the reverse.
The West focuses on the life-cycle of the individual, whereas the East
focuses on the spiritual cycle or journey (irrespective of how it may relate
to the physical life-cycle).
8. Development of insight in learning cycles
Schemes such as the above suggest that people or groups at different
learning stages generate different kinds of problems and can usefully cultivate
corresponding strengths to counter them. It is unreasonable to expect any
form of general consensus or shared understanding in such a dynamic context.
This could only emerge through insights into interweaving cycles of development.
Whilst the management skills to organize such initiatives have been
developed by the West, it is the East which appears to have a more profound
articulation of the qualities of insight that need to be developed and
how they need to be interwoven to reduce problem generation.
The situation is of course totally confused by the claims of both management
"gurus" in the West and of spiritual "gurus" from the East, all with markets
to cultivate and under competitive pressure to offer distinct products
to potential customers. It remains to be discovered how their genuine insights
can be effectively interwoven in response to the challenge of the times.
9. Disempowering injunctions
If there are eight things to be held in balance, as when learning to
ride a bicycle, injunctions concerning any of them may be less than helpful.
The difficulty is that, although the learner may have some knowledge of
what is meant by any one injunction ("care", or "right mindfulness"), this
knowledge is limited precisely because the person (or group) has not yet
learnt its full significance in practice.
Efforts to ensure implementation of the injunction, through obedience
to rules or procedures, do not guarantee achievement of the requisite level
of insight. They may help to orient the learner, but they may also discourage
and disempower. This is particularly the case when the learner has sufficient
insight to recognize that the real challenge does not lie at the level
of mechanical rules and procedures but in what amounts to the aesthetics
of balance. At this level, it is less a question of whether the rules are
obeyed to the letter and more a question of whether balance is maintained.
Perfection may lie, as with an important principle of Japanese aesthetics,
in the harmony of imperfections.
Exhortation and injunction may in many situations simply lead to what
amounts to "learning fatigue" -- an appropriate complement to "compassion
fatigue". In this sense they can be totally counter-productive.
In this light, the focus in the international community on elaborating
declarations, rules and agreements may well orient usefully those addressed,
but it fails to address the challenge of how they are to learn the secrets
of balance. Worse, it reinforces the views of those focused on single-factor
explanations and remedies, such as "market forces", "peace", "conservation",
"equality", or "love". For them the answers are already self-evident and
there is no collective learning challenge. Such approaches may be necessary,
but they are not sufficient to obtain an understanding of the balance ultimately
required for sustainable human development.
10. Intriguing dilemmas and developmental koans
In one sense the issue is the classic challenge of how the learning
process can be made attractive, interesting or seductive. However the emphasis
is not only learning things which can be taught mechanically or by rote.
Rather it is the question of catalyzing the leap of imagination through
which a new paradigm is grasped experientially enabling energies to be
controlled in new ways. There are some classic responses to this challenge:
(a) Sufi tales of Nasruddin: The Sufis have deliberately cultivated
an extensive set of teaching stories. They are brief, witty and call for
a paradoxical switch in perspective. They may told purely for entertainment,
thus ensuring their survival and wide dissemination, or they may be the
basis for discussion and meditation. Such fables exist in other cultures.
However it is those of the Sufis which are best designed to maintain the
challenge to insight and to resist simplistic interpretation.
(b) Paradoxical aphorisms: All cultures have a store of paradoxical
aphorisms which point to value dilemmas, holding their tension rather than
indicating a simplistic way forward. Of course there are many other aphorisms
which do the latter.
(c) Zen koans: These are deliberately designed as challenges
to understanding, irritating the mind at the level at which it would like
to respond to a dilemma so that finally it is forced to another level of
(d) Riddles and puzzles: In many traditions there are riddles
and puzzles, often associated with magic. These point to the need to move
beyond obvious modes of understanding to breakthrough to other forms of
(e) Paradoxical strategies: In psychotherapy increasing attention
is paid to the advantages of enjoining people to act in a manner contrary
to that which they expect. Through encouraging them to act in a manner
which, at one level, they know to be inappropriate, they achieve a fruitful
relationship to what they need to learn.
(f) Meditation: Given the attention of Buddhists to these issues,
it is not surprising that they have developed very explicit meditation
techniques concerned with the development of understanding of the appropriate
attitude from which to response to the value dilemmas. These are designed
specifically to avoid engendering the kinds of problems which result from
imbalance. The techniques are not only considered with the imbalance associated
with particular dilemmas, but also with the level of balance required to
respond simultaneously to all the dilemmas. The mandala is one diagrammatic
representation of this understanding although, as a mnemonic device, the
issue is with what insight meditators can learn to "read" it.
(g) Computer graphics: New developments in computer-generated
graphics are permitting imagery to be generated that does not conform to
the rules of the physical universe. Viewing such imagery is a direct challenge
to the imagination and calls for a basic shift in perspective. Such techniques
could well be adapted to encourage insights into dilemmas and new forms
8. Encapsulating sets of dilemmas
The classical sets of eight value dilemmas represent a well-established
approach to human development. It could be argued that the challenge of
the times calls for a more powerful statement of the dilemmas of global
society. If the issue is not one of learning facts and responding to injunctions,
where is the set of learning "puzzles" enabling individuals to obtain their
own unique insights into the kinds of balance required for physical and
Different traditions and cultures might be explored to locate the "riddles"
to which we are called to respond. Others might be designed by different
disciplines. In a period when education is increasingly problematic, sets
of 3, 5, 8, 12, or more intriguing challenges could offer a powerful complement
to factual learning. The possibility is seductive because the answers to
the dilemmas cannot be effectively verbalized without denaturing them.
The "right answer" is one that opens new vistas and feels "right" for the
individual. They are a matter of personal (and possibly group) experience,
difficult to share.
How might the challenge of sustainable human development be expressed
in this way -- as a major step beyond the disempowering and ineffectual
injunctions on which so much confidence is vainly placed by the well-intentioned?
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential