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Me Us We World

Last week’s inaugural TEDxGrandRapids event was excellent.  Our all-volunteer staff did a wonderful job of creating a TED-style experience here in West Michigan.  The feedback from attendees, speakers, and sponsors has been positive.  I am hearing stories that attendees took their inspiration back to families, work, schools and neighborhoods.  Exactly how that’s supposed to work!

A few attendees asked about the Me Us We World slide from my “thank you” presentation at TEDxGrandRapids. I’m delighted so many people intuited a deeper meaning to the slide.  It represents the concept that human awareness naturally trends to identification at increasing levels of complexity.  Given the opportunity, and supporting life conditions, human awareness continues to “grow” during a lifetime and has the potential to activate all four levels of perspective.

Identity Perspective
Me Self Egocentric
Us Community Ethnocentric
We Humanity Humancentric
World All Life Worldcentric

Becoming Human

Great conflict stems from our inability to agree when human life begins.  Some people say life begins at the moment of conception while others contend it starts shortly before or after birth.  Not everyone believes our humanness is directly tied to our physical bodies.

In the Navajo tradition, a baby becomes fully part of the earthly human family at the moment of its first laugh.  Before that first laugh, the child exists in both the spirit realm and physical reality.  Aristotle held a similar view suggesting that the first laugh was a sign that a soul had entered the body. While we might not agree when it happens, we can agree that at some point in your life you became self-aware.   You became a “Me”.

Me is the first of the four major identity perspectives.  They are ordered from least complex to most complex.  Each higher complexity includes those that came before it.  Imagine them like Russian Dolls with the Me perspective nestled inside the Us which is inside the We that is contained in the World.

What’s in it for Me?

The “what’s in it for Me” perspective is what keeps you alive.  It is the core mindware that drives you to service your personal needs and wants. It motives you to find food, water, shelter, sleep, companionship, safety, and all other desires.

Every human has an active Me perspective.  The Me perspective evaluates all other people as either helping or hindering your acquisition of fulfillment. The Me perspective is easily visible in a young child.  Adults acting primarily from the Me perspective are considered narcissists.

Us and Them

The first upgrade of perspective is to the Us.  This occurs when you identify as part of one or more social groups.  The Us view of life is the tribal perspective that coagulates multiple Me’s into a single Us.

The Us awareness is a natural expansion of the Me.  It can arise through experiencing the benefits of communal relationships or shared suffering.  For example, when shared work and resources satisfy the needs of your Me more efficiently than the Me can alone, mental energy is given to maintaining identification with the social group or groups to which you belong.  The benefits of membership reinforce the Us perspective.

The Me perspective is not replaced by the Us; it continues to exist working in tandem with the Us.  When both are active you make your choices from the Me or Us perspective, or some combination of the two depending on the situation.

In healthy people, both the Me and the Us continue to function in symbiosis with each other.  In other cases, such as a cult mentality, the Me is drastically diminished and the Us becomes the primary perspective.  The Kamikaze fighters of WWII Japan are another example of the Us overpowering the Me to the detriment of the self.  I should note here that people of Western cultures tend to preference the Me while citizens of Eastern cultures can have more Us focused identities.

When the Us perspective is at its most complex active level in an individual it causes the Us versus Them framing.  The old adage, “you are either with us or against us,” exemplifies the Us versus Them attitude that arises when the Us is the dominant perspective.  The Us mindware, while more complex that the Me, lacks the ability to value other groups.  Anything that does not serve to reinforce the organization of the group is considered a threat or a resource.

We the People

Activation of the We perspective brings an individual into the awareness that all humans have intrinsic value.  Perception moves from the community focused Us to the We or “all of us”.

The awareness that you are part of the human species and that together we co-create our shared social future is the hallmark of this view.  This perspective understands that the actions of each Me, and every Us, forms a total system that impacts all of us.   Individuals with active We perspectives see humanity as a single community of diverse beings.

A newly activated We perspective can initially be confusing.  It is not unusual for individuals new to the We to find fault in any Us type organizational language.  Categorization and hierarchy of any sort becomes unappealing.  This side effect usually manifests as calls for more inclusiveness and discomfort with labels of any sort.

As a person matures in their We perspective the beautiful fractal nature of organization becomes apparent.  The nested grouping of hierarchal complexity in human culture eventually becomes obvious and accepted.  A natural extension of this maturation process is to see all living organizational patterns as interrelated.  When the We matures to this level, it triggers the Gaia, or World, perspective.

One World

When the World perspective activates you come to understand that all of life on Earth is tethered by a complex living web of systemic interactions.  It becomes impossible to “see” daily life without sensing these linkages. The hallmark of this perspective is an individual’s hesitancy to make statements of moral judgment.  Instead of holding static value judgments, individuals operating from the World perspective evaluate all situations contextually weighing the costs and benefits from many perspectives.

This multi-perspective processing can be overwhelming at first.  Attempting to rationally process all the interrelated complexities is impossible with conscious thought.  Eventually, a person operating from the World level learns that conscious cognitive processing is no match for the volume of systemic information associated with the World perspective.  The solution is to let unconscious mental processes do the work.  A grounded ease to life arises by learning to trust intuition.

The other key aspect of the World perspective is an understanding that higher levels of complexity are not “better” than less complex systems. The We perspective is not better than the Us perspective. A child is less complex than a teen, but neither is better or worse than the other.

Each of the Me, Us and We perspectives fancies itself the most enlightened perspective. The We judges the Us to be fragmented, the Us judges the Me to be selfish. It is only the World perspective that sees the natural ordering of all perspectives and finds beauty in each person just as they are. It is the World perspective that can hold the paradox of nurturing global prosperity while also appreciating each individual’s unique perspective.

Who Are You?

Your view of yourself, others, and the world around you is perceived through the multiple lenses of your mindware.   Your daily choices are made based on which perspective is most active at any one time. When you are hungry, it may be your Me that runs the show.  And when you are fully resourced and emotionally supported, you may act easily from the We or World perspective. If your family or local community is attacked, you may instinctively operate from the Us perspective.  All perspectives that are active impact our choices and attitudes.

Most people in the world operate from an Us perspective.  It is the highest level of mindware active in the majority of humans, but that is changing.  A tipping point is coming when the majority of humanity will have the We perspective activated.   This is the shift that is coming.  When it happens, global prosperity will be on our doorstep. It will be the dawn of global collaboration.

Investing in Global Prosperity

You have the ability to foster the activation of the We perspective in humanity through your allocation of days and dollars.  Do you buy products from businesses that operate from the We or World perspective? Do you invest your days participating in activities that acknowledge the We or World views of humanity? Are you building systems that operate from the We perspective?

Global prosperity is available to humanity, and we are trending in that direction, but it will not be fully available until systems of technology, spirituality, and commerce come into being that are born of the We perspective.

The Internet is an example of the We technology.  It has few culture based boundaries. There is no need to go through border patrol or show a passport to access sites in countries all over the world.  New We based spiritual perspectives are also arising.  The SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) movement is an example of a We spirituality.  It promotes the idea that each of us has a unique spiritual perspective that should be honored and sees humanity as a single collective with diverse spiritual conceptualizations.  These are all good starts, but it will be the development of We based commerce that changes everything.

Modern commerce is currently based in nationalized fiat currency systems.  These forms of money arise from the Us perspective.  Money and commerce systems based in the We perspective are needed.  I’ll write more on this important topic soon.

War of the Us and We

If this article makes sense to you, then at a minimum your We perspective is activated….and there is something you must know.   The Us despises the We and in some ways vice versa.

The newly activated We finds all hierarchy and categorization distasteful.  It sees the Us as exactly that and as such wants to eliminate it.  The Us correctly perceives this and judges the We as attacking it and eroding its boundaries.   The Us is terrified that if the We is not stopped it will destroy the Us, which is not completely true.  The We does not destroy the Us, it engulfs it.

Much of the current social conflict in the United States is Us and We conflict masked as specific social issues.  Take for example the issue of gay marriage.  From the We perspective it is a simple issue of two people formalizing their loving relationship regardless of sexual preference.   From the non-gay Us perspective it is as an erosion of social boundaries as defined as heterosexual family units or religious doctrine. Both perspectives are speaking honestly from their point of view.

When the gay marriage conflict is viewed as an Us and We tension it is possible to see why both sides of the issue find each other incomprehensible.  The topic is only the carrier wave for the real issue which is conflicting organizational viewpoints.  It is an Us and a We issue.

Beware the Weak We

The Us fights against all the We based technology, spirituality and commerce.   It does so naturally as means to preserve its identity.  It is irrational to be upset with someone who supports the Us perspective.  Telling them not to feel this way is like telling a hungry person not to want food.   The only way to relieve these tensions is to create the social environments for people to naturally uplevel in organizational identity.

The biggest risk to creating this required social environment and the advent of global prosperity if the “weak We”.

The immature We is indecisive and powerless.  It lacks the ability to choose one thing over another fearing that all choices alienate some group or viewpoint.  It lacks the ability to see itself as a more complex form of mindware because it likens hierarchal thinking to an Us versus Them framing.  In its desire to be inclusive it renders itself weak.

The solution to the weak We problem is for the We to focus on building more systems of technology, spirituality and commerce while ignoring the Us.  In the best case, these new systems include but also transcend the existing Us based systems.  I’ll have more to say on that in another post.

Global Prosperity

The conflict between the Us and the We can never be won by either side.   The We must continue to build We systems in the world and patiently wait for more We perspective to be activated in humanity.  Humanity is nearing a fork on the path of history.  One direction leads to increasing We and World perspectives and global prosperity.  The other path is that of continued violence between groups of people and between people and the planet.  The good news is that the fork is very close.  The challenge is that the Us blocks the path to prosperity and demands a confrontation.  Steel yourself for the work We must do together.

Today is my 17,205th day of life and I’m ready to do the We and World work with you.

NOTE: Want to learn more about neural-psycho-social identity patterns? Check out work by Kegan ,Kohlberg ,Piaget ,Gilligan ,Graves , and Wilber.