Gini Nelson\’s Engaging Conflicts

February 20, 2007

Transformative Learning, Adult Development, and Adult Complexity Of Mind, Part Two — EngagingConflicts.com

Filed under: Uncategorized — Gini @ 4:38 am

sheep looking into cameraThis post continues the series on adult development and adult complexity of mind, a relatively new field of study and application about how human thinking capacities evolve sequentially and how these theories can be practically applied in such fields as adult learning, professional development, and leadership development, all of which are relevant for attorneys, mediators and others working in conflict management and resolution. Part One is found here.

 

In Part One of this series on adult development and complexity of mind, I talked about transformational learning, defined as learning that leads to greater complexity of mind, that is, broader perspective taking. It is different from informational learning, which more simply adds knowledge to the mind, and does not itself develop the complexity of the mind. Understanding these complex and important ideas may help all of us think and act with the increased complexity necessary for sustained success in today’s world. Parts Two and Three will explore the basis of this theory in constructive-developmental psychology. Parts Four and Five will introduce Carl Jungs theoretical framework of mid-life as a natural epoch in human development.

Children and adults see vastly different worlds. To a small child, the view from an airplane is of miniature people and houses and cars, while an adult knows that they are full-sized objects that only look small from the perspective of the plane’s height. As the child grows and matures, she, too, comes to understand that an object remains the same size, whether it is seen close up or from afar, even though it looks bigger or smaller. This is an example of cognitive development. Just as children’s brains develop in complexity of thought, so, too, can an adult’s brain, according to constructive-developmental psychology theorist Robert Kegan.

Catherine Fitzgerald, in Executive Coaching discusses his theories as they apply to executive coaching, but they are applicable to many social and personal situations, including those with conflict. For more information, see Fitzgerald, Catherine and Garvey Berger, Jennifer, Leadership and Complexity of Mind: The Role of Executive Coaching, in Executive Coaching: Practices & Perspectives, Catherine Fitzgerald, Jennifer Garvey Berger, eds., Davies-Black Publishing, an imprint of Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc., 2002.

How do people make meaning of the world around them? Kegan discusses one particular aspect of transformational learning, the movement of something from Subject to Object. At one time, people believed that the world was flat, and that assumption (that the world was flat) was not questioned. An unquestioned assumption is as if it is part of the person, a subject.” It is not an object,” i.e., something outside of oneself that can be examined, considered, or evaluated from some different perspective.

When an assumption is a subject,” it both shapes how the world is understood, and it cannot be questioned. If the world is flat, you don’t sail too far towards the edge of the world, and you may attack people who say it is not flat. However, if you understand that the flatness of the world is an assumption, not a fact, you might consider what others say about it, and even sail towards the edge of the world to check it out.

To Kegan, the more assumptions about the world that are made Object instead of Subject, the more complex the mind, and the greater the ability of a person to see, reflect on, be responsible for, and shape her own world.

Fitzgerald gives these as examples of insights that involve a Subject-Object shift:

  • I was always the responsible one in my family and I guess I ended up controlling things. I’ve been talking about empowering staff, but I haven’t really been willing to give up control.

  • I was taught that being loyal to my boss and my company came first, but now I see that doing the right thing can be much more important than loyalty.

 

Id. at 30-31. These movements are very challenging, and insights learned often seem to disappear shortly after being gained. Kegan suggests these movements involve a psychological muscle that must be built and strengthened over time. These movements are the process of cognitive development.

The existence of five qualitatively different orders of mind” is another key aspect of Kegan’s constructive-developmental theory. Each is a different way of constructing reality (“seeing” the world), ranging from less to more complex. These are stages along the developmental journey. Each order preserves the complexity learned at the earlier orders.

According to Kegan, the First Order is made up almost totally of young children, and involves magical thinking. The Second Order is made up of older children and adolescents, and adults who still think like them. These adults are self-centered and see people as aids or obstacles to what they want. If they don’t break rules, it’s because they are afraid of being caught.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the other Orders of Mind.

Remember to go to the new site, http://www.EngagingConflicts.com.

 

Advertisements

2 Comments »

  1. […] Complexity of mind – “An unquestioned assumption is as if it is part of the person, a “subject.” It is not an “object,” i.e., something outside of oneself that can be examined, considered, or evaluated from some different perspective.” […]

    Pingback by Lessons Learned in 2009 - Sources of Insight — January 11, 2010 @ 2:07 am | Reply

  2. […] Complexity of mind – “An unquestioned assumption is as if it is part of the person, a “subject.” It is not an “object,” i.e., something outside of oneself that can be examined, considered, or evaluated from some different perspective.” […]

    Pingback by Lessons Learned in 2009 : Sources of Insight — January 9, 2015 @ 1:46 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: