What kind of a shift are we talking about?

There’s been a lot of conversation in the last several years about the shifting sands of our culture. The flagging economy precipitated a shift in values from materialism to pragmatism. Political loyalties are shifting from the two major traditional parties to a post-partisan or independent stance. Personal relationships have shifted from face-to-face to virtual online interactions.

And now there’s all this talk about a shift in consciousness. But what does that really mean? It means a shift in values, in behavior, and in ways of relating to life, others and the deep human need for meaning.

First of all, let’s be clear. This isn’t about one shift. It might be more like four or five shifts if we’re honest. It’s about all of us, from wherever we are on the spectrum, moving up a notch. And here’s the really cool thing – it never stops. As renowned social psychologist Dr. Clare W. Graves called it “A never-ending quest.”

Graves identified eight different ways of seeing the world, and looking across history, you can see how man shifted from one phase to the next. Here’s a great explanation of the course of human history in six minutes, four seconds from my friend John Marshall Roberts that explains this idea.

You’ll see the shifts from tribalism, empire building and the idea of life as a battle to the idea of life as a test. This shift sparked the rise of religion, of right and wrong, of moral authority. But soon, people began to shift again, this time toward free thinking, away from the constraints of religious dogma, and toward science, innovation, and personal power. This individualistic worldview is still the dominant one here in America. It’s about “what have you done for me lately?” It’s about affluence, winning, and materialism.

But it doesn’t end there. The next shift started happening – about 50 years ago in fact. That’s when some people felt another call, one that’s gained momentum recently with the economic collapse. They sensed that stuff wasn’t enough, that the things money can buy don’t really bring happiness. And once again, they turned. This time toward relationships, toward people, toward humanity. It sparked the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movement and a new fascination with other, less dogmatic forms of spirituality.

And, as the pattern goes, once again some people are feeling the tug of the next shift. This time, it’ll be a move toward restoring balance in the world, of seeing the world as an interconnected system, of reclaiming the world from faceless multi-national conglomerates who still worship the old worldview. Where nature is revered instead of only seen as a resource to use for our own immediate needs. Where science and spirit start to unify instead of polarize, where mystery is embraced.

One way to think about the shift from individualistic to humanistic to systemic is a shift from situational values to sustainable values, as writer Dov Seidman explains. Situational values are driven by the here and now – by the “What can you do for me right now?” mindset – the short term wins in spite of the long-term costs. The only guardrails are what we can and cannot do in situations. Situational values, however, are guided by what we should and should not do in situations. “Sustainable values are therefore all about how, not how much,” Seidman says.

Shifts are never clear-cut, convenient or instantaneous. But they’re also inevitable. They’re part of being human – in my opinion, the most exciting and interesting part.


About Karen Barnes

To change the world we live in, we first must change ourselves. Insightful cultural commentary and innovative approaches to behavior change all in service to a more sustainable, equitable, peaceful world.
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