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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Conflicting Values, Diversity and Tolerance: Kegan's Fourth Order of Consciousness

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 23rd 2007

Today is Friday, June 22, 2007. On the front page of the New York Times is a photograph of a British Muslim woman wearing a full face veil called a niqab. The article is entitled, "Muslims' Veils Test Limits of Britain's Tolerance." Although only two million British citizens are Muslim and a tiny percent of these women wear the niqab along with the accompanying black gown that covers their entire body, the article states that many in Great Britain find the outfit offensive. Even leaders there have referred to the outfit as insulting and affront to the British way of life. Tony Blair has complained that the Muslim clothing worn by these women makes them separate and distinct, as though there is something wrong with a religious group being separate and distinct.

Our own Dr. Dombeck of Mental Help Net has done a masterful job of translating the brilliant and psychologically penetrating work of Robert Kegan writer of The Evolving Self, an notoriously difficult book to read (I know, I read it), and In Over Our Heads, a much more readable and comprehensible book for everyone. In looking at levels of development of social maturity and orders of consciousness, Kegan states that the highest level of development is the Interindividual Self in which a person at this level is able to appreciate conflicting values systems without feeling crushed. This is also referred to as Social Maturity because the person is able to be Self-Determining. To be self determining is to select those values that make sense to you while tolerating and respecting the conflicting values of other peoples and their societies. Dr. Dombeck tells us that according to Kegan people do not achieve a full level of mature thinking in their relationship with the world and with people in the world.

Where are we as a world community and as democratic societies in the Western world when people throughout one of the oldest democracies in the world, Great Britain, react to Muslims who wear their formal attire, including black robes and niqab that covers the face of women when they are reacted to with hate and intolerance?

Lest we think that we here in the United States are any better, there have been outbreaks of anti Muslim sentiment and activity in many parts of our country, some of it over whether Muslim school children should be allowed to wear their religious attire to school.

Of course, the West is not the only place in the world where social maturity has not been achieved by most people. Radical Muslims who harbor feelings of hate for Israel, the West, Jews and Christianity, are not any better than those who hate anywhere else in the world.

One of the things that occurred to me as I read the article about Muslims in Great Britain is how people would feel if Orthodox Jews were not permitted to wear their skull caps with have long beards and long strings of hair over their ears as demanded by their religious beliefs? Many Hasidic Sects also demand that members wear black suits and hats that resemble clothing from the 19th and 18th centuries in Europe.

Ok, let’s bring this issue even closer to home for many people: what if Catholic Nuns were not permitted to wear their black robes?

It is true that in today's world, it is common for Nuns to dress in lay outfits while in public so that they are less identifiable as nuns when in public. But I remember a time, not so long ago, when all nuns wore full black robes in public with the result that there was no mistaking who they were. How would Catholics feel if nuns were discriminated against for how they dress?

Another example of how intolerance might work is connected with the Pennsylvania Dutch who dress in their formal black outfits to this day and reject such modern amenities as electricity and telephones inside of their homes. They do not drive cars but ride around in horse drawn carriages. Would one of our governmental leaders characterize them and their behavior as an affront to American society?

Is intolerance of difference the reason why African Americans have had a difficult time in the United States? Is anyone who looks different, has differing values, different belief systems, values systems or differing opinions, to be rejected just for being different?

How do we get people to the fourth level of thinking in which they can learn about and come to accept other ways of living while knowing they can choose to live according to their own mature thinking?

One of the things I find disturbing is when an occasional patient will make disparaging and hateful remarks about other ethnic and racial groups. Sometimes this type of person will falsely believe that I will share their views because they suspect that I am from their ethnic group and that I will share their intolerance. It is not my job to scold or lecture any patient about how they should or should not think. In fact, to do so would have the opposite of the desired effect I want, which is to bring them along into a more tolerant and healthy, mature way of thinking.

How do we accomplish the goal of helping people to move to higher and more mature ways of thinking? How do we structure our schools to accomplish this? How do we make this a more tolerant and accepting worldd?

Naive questions? Perhaps.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

The question of over-identification - Ivan - Jul 30th 2007
I appreciate the question, and I relate to the story of having someone assume that you share their particular opinion/judgement about a given grouping of people. This assumes that you, along the 'assumer', belong to a different group. To simplify: Us and Them. In or Out. Safe and Unsafe.

       I was raised in a setting of religious identification, where anyone within the group was to be treated 'as you would have them treat you', and the brotherhood of man and love your neighbor and all that applied. 
       Outside of the group, however, was the big bad world of unverified humanity. Will they cheat you? Kill you? Why not? They are not bound by your religion, and have nothing to gain (apparantly) by treating you with respect or equinimity, beyond the letter and consequence of the law of the land. But they harbor no love or assistance for you. And as they are not consecrating their lives to the service of your religion, thus they are spiritually/fundamentally either corrupted, or lacking. Seperation. Here/Us=Good. There/Them=Bad.
        Sad as i feel that perspective to be- I did hold it in my hands as well for a time. Considering that it was the social atmosphere and suggestion, spoken or unspoken, it was the attitude I percieved and felt, and adopted it for a time as my own. 
        The main factors in doing so as far as I can see are: Fear of isolation. The need for social identification and support. Perhaps two sides of the same coin, but the former is the experience, and the latter is the activity taken to adapt to the given dynamics. You want/need to be 'with', so you go along with what is happening around you. 
        The further a person has to go to feel secure in themselves, the more likely benign entities are apt to become considered potential threats to be ordered in the social/spatial schemata and warded off.
        If a group's self esteem is not enhanced by its tradition, but exists only because of it, then i imagine that 'forgetting' the humanity of others- be it a group or an individual- is more likely to occur.
        I had a friend who's father said 'be a person first, and a ------(insert: race/religion/identification) second'. Which is a way to identify with the value of your tradition without excluding the humanity of others from differing backgrounds, and the potential for finding common ground is greater.
       As a human being, it makes no sense to me at all that any particular group is 'better' or 'worse' than any other. Granted, the tendency to prefer 'us' over 'them'- but i think one would be hard pressed to reconcile that conceit with their innate compassion and empathy- their humanity; which (i believe) has no race, religion, nationality, gender or age...'us' is all humans.
       In a few words; the prop of self esteem bought by membership in a group which identifies itself as superior/different in some way is an extension of the crutch of individually manufactured esteem related to the lack of a more benign/positive identification as a human with humans  which brings out an exxagerrated need for being 'different'.
       superiority/inferiority complex as a response  to natural equality and togetherness being challenged.
       holistic: equal and together. 
Everyone and no one gets to be special in the eyes of infinity, eh? 
         sound fair? 
I'm not sure i've exhausted my thoughts on the subject by a longshot, nor have i expressed them as clearly or as lucidly as i might have liked to - however, I am grateful for the forum- i think it is an extremely important issue and of vital neccessity for us to find good ways to better understand and relate to each other and ourselves as we all share this life here on this planet. 

Look Within To Find The Cause - James Roberson - Jun 28th 2007

My name is James. I am white. My father was racist and did not tolerate blacks or would patronize the few he did tolerate. I grew up in Memphis during the sanitation worker's strike and the assasination of Dr. King. I was bussed to an all black school where whites suddenly became the minority and surviving the day often meant staying close to my own. At the age of 19, I took a ride in the rain with two blacks I thought I knew well enough. At gunpoint, they played me as they rode me between them in the front seat for hours through neighborhoods that even they would not walk around in at night. To end the ordeal, I took them to my home to give them money. They made me strip and bound my hands and feet with my clothes then through a blanket over me. They took my wallet with two Billy Joel concert tickets, cash I kept in the dresser, my stereo, my leather jacket and my gold watch (a gift). When associates at work found out they wanted to from a vigilante group. I thought about it and decided that the items weren't worth it. My life had been spared. I did, however, live in fear for some months.

I suppose I could have taken the veiw regarding all blacks that my father did. But, I couldn't help but realize that with this exception and the treatment from the all black school, other encounters with blacks had been positive. I even had a childhood friend who was black and one who was half Asian. I also could remember several positive relationships with other blacks in my early adulthood. As an older adult, the one person who watched over my department at work and who hated any black that would play the "race card" to get his or her way was a black man. We grew into a close friendship, although our lifestyles allowed little social interaction outside the job.

Perhaps one way of getting to the problem with race or predjudice is to have patients focus on actual experiences with other ethnic groups. It is very possible that by doing so a revelation may occur that the discrimintory actions on their part have been biased on pre-conceived notions from childhood. One has to learn to know the individual in order to overcome the fears brought on by others' influences.

I am reminded of the former dog owner who hated all dogs because his bit him when he was young. I understood his defensiveness. But, the falicy of his logic is that all dogs bite. All dogs can bite is not the same as all dogs will bite. But, he will never know this unless he takes a chance and gets another dog. Even in the face of empirical evidence from millions of successful dog owners, he will focus only on the fear brought about by that one incident.

Often, it is a preference and not prejudice that leads us to flock with others who support our often misguided notions. This is socially understandable. But, the barriers that divide us are all too often the walls of our own making and the farther removed from the experience the less we ourselves can logically explain why we built and keep that wall. In order to break down this wall, we have to force ourselves to change our behavior. In order to change our behavior, we have to face the truth. Do I hate all blacks because of one bad experience or because my father hated blacks? Or, do I simply refuse to examine what I really know to be true. That not all dogs will bite. I have been bitten by a Saint Bernard. My wife had a Saint Bernard when we married. I carefully made my inroads with this dog and found him to be protective of the children around the neighborhood. Eventually, I came to like him and although his size was intimidating we got along just fine. Frankly, I prefer small dogs. But, I got over my fear because this Saint Bernard was not the one that bit me.

Diversity is the spice of life. Learn from the lives of others. The history of ethnic differences is rife with lessons about our own identities.

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