By Barry K. Weinhold

We have seen many people transform themselves and their relationships by resolving their conflicts, and recognize the relationship between resolving conflict and consciousness. For most people, however, conflict is something they avoid at all costs, which means that they miss important opportunities for personal transformation. This second group of people often lacks the skills they need to resolve conflicts in ways that raise their consciousness.

The skills taught in our book, Conflict Resolution: The Partnership Way, make it possible for people to effectively utilize their conflicts, particularly those that are long-standing or intractable, as tools for transforming themselves and their relationships. One of the first skills people need is the ability to identify their current stage of consciousness. We discovered that one of the best ways to do this is to begin with determining how people resolve conflicts.

Conflict and ConsciousnessHarvard psychologist and educator, Robert Kegan (left), devised a taxonomy of stages of consciousness which he describes in his book, In Over Our Heads, (1994). Kegan identifies five distinct stages of consciousness and uses a meta-analysis of the research in this field to estimate the percentage of the population in each stage.We have correlated Kegan’s stages with different ways of resolving conflict, which we describe below:


Stage One: Magical Thinking. Individuals in this stage of consciousness lack good cause-and-effect thinking and often attribute events in their lives to magical sources or causes. They often act impulsively and engage in fantasy projections. In conflict situations, they typically blame their conflicts or problems on some unforeseen coincidence or on the other person without any awareness of how they might have participated in causing the conflict.

Stage Two: Concrete Thinking. Individuals in this stage of consciousness base their reality on what is visible and concrete. They are unable to grasp the meaning of abstract concepts such as “human rights” or “fairness.” Everything must be quantified in concrete, visible ways for them to grasp its meaning or significance. During conflicts, they often focus on the most visible and obvious effects of the conflict and ignore the rest.

Stage Three: Cross-Relational Thinking. Individuals in this stage of consciousness are able to think abstractly. While they are able to see the relationships between categories of information, they tend to see the world as acting upon them. They typically think, act and feel like a victim. In conflict situations they usually feel victimized by others or the situation and believe the problem is caused by the other person or circumstances. They tend to victimize others for the same reason and experience conflict as either win-lose or lose-lose.

Stage Four: Systemic Thinking. Individuals in this stage of consciousness can think holistically and systemically. They are able to perceive the underlying patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that recycle and control their lives. In conflict situations, they are able to correlate a current conflict with similar ones from the past. They can understand how and why a current conflict might be caused by an unresolved conflict from their past, but they usually can’t figure out what to do to change this pattern or conflict.

Stage Five: Trans-Systemic Thinking. Individuals in this stage of consciousness can not only see the relationships between their current conflicts and their past unresolved conflicts, but they are able to change these life-restricting patterns. They are able to see why they have been unable to resolve past conflicts, how these unresolved conflicts are currently affecting their lives and how to resolve intractable conflicts at their source. They can truly utilize conflict situations as opportunities to change their lives and their relationships.

Based on his and other research findings, Kegan estimates that about 70% of the adult population in the United States is at Stage Three or below. He calls these people “Traditionalists.” People in stage four he identifies as “Moderns” and those at stage five he calls “Post-Moderns.” According to his research, approximately 30% are entering or at Stage Four and less than 1% is entering or at Stage Five.

Kegan claims that many people are clearly “in over their heads” in their attempts to cope with the complexity of modern life. He ascribes this to having consciousness that is not sufficiently developed to meet the mental challenges of modern life.

Interestingly, other new demographic research from the American LIVES research group in San Francisco identified three different worldviews that correspond roughly to Kegan’s categories of consciousness. This research indicates that about 29% or 56 million Americans hold a “traditional” worldview.

Another 47% or 88 million Americans hold a “modern” worldview. The remaining 24% or 44 million Americans, which is the fastest growing group in the United States, have a “trans-modern” worldview. They labeled this last group the “Cultural Creatives.”

According to lead researcher and sociologist, Paul H. Ray, the Cultural Creatives “are forging a new sense of the sacred that incorporates personal growth psychology, the spiritual realm and service to others.” In his book, The Integral Culture Survey: A Study of the Emergence of Transformational Values in America, Ray describes the Cultural Creatives as a growing transformational force in America.

conflict.jpgThe skills and information contained in our book, Conflict Resolution: The Partnership Way, and many of our other books are designed to help people shift into “modern” and “post-modern” stages of consciousness. The Cultural Creatives and Moderns identified in Ray’s research can utilize the information and skills in our books to develop them develop a transformative life style where they are able to resolve their conflicts in a partnership way.

For further information on how our students and clients have transformed themselves through our courses and trainings, read our post, Teaching and Therapy as Transformation: Facilitating Shifts in Consciousness.For more information on this topic, please visit:Leading Edge International Research Group, a 40 MG planetary scientific and social paradigm analysis database managed by the author of the MATRIX books and editor of the Leading Edge International Research Journal.

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