Levels stand for development through discrete stages. Such levels are often outlined for individuals and how we make sense of what goes on around us. They exist across all the integral quadrants above.
An example of levels for individual people is that development unfolds in a defined, identifiable and invariable sequence. People move through specific stages or orders within which we understand ourselves (and what we experience in the world) within describable parameters.
As a person shifts, from one stage to a new order, the new level includes previous orders and thus must be more complex to support this more comprehensive understanding. A person would thus make sense of themselves and the world in a holistic manner when at a particular stage and then, in a subsequent order, this prior understanding forms part (but not all) of their new meaning-making.
That is, the new meaning-making stage transcends and includes the previous steps – it transcends its previous level of knowledge but still includes this knowledge. Such cognitive stages are similarly linked to physical perspectives – for example, perceptions and objective statements about why we should, or should not, act on climate change and/or peoples’ ways of defining sustainability.
States, Lines, Types
Other aspects of integral theory are states, lines and types. In brief:
- States are temporary manners of being or external conditions.
- The concept of multiple lines is common in developmental that may include cognitive, moral and emotional development. For example, Robert Kegan and Susanne Cook-Greuter have each described such growth hierarchies. These separate descriptions could be regarded as such discrete lines of development.
- Types describe typically fixed preferences. For example, a person’s Myers-Briggs type, it is argued, does not change. However, the non-preferred way of being may be learned.
Integral theory’s proponents hold that utilizing all elements in any situation increases the likelihood of better understanding and/or successful outcomes.
Integral theory can be, and is, applied to a wide range of human endeavor including sustainability and related topics, leadership, management, organizations and future studies.
One of the things that makes integral theory stand out is its comprehensive map of the world. It helps us understand paradoxes such as profitability. In this paradox, we say we will act when it is in our financial self-interest to do so. However, numerous examples of cost-effective, quick, risk-free, profitable changes that are not acted on exist.
Levels help us make sense of wildly different perspectives. For example, sometimes I become frustrated with a dogmatic, my way or the highway, approach. Google Glass is a good example. Technically brilliant, a useful idea but, oops, we forgot about integrating more complex, sophisticated and subtle perspectives. Is the person wearing this spying on me, being a glasshole?