Making Sense of Wilber (Altitude)

In addition to Wilber’s AQAL approach that he’s written much about, his idea of “Altitude” is equally as helpful. Altitude simply describes the spectrum of human awareness or consciousness that can be traced throughout human history and also throughout the life of any single human being. The territory that Wilber covers in this approach is not new. What Wilber has done is combined and expanded on several different but similar models from other leading psychologist.


As you can see, there are various levels of consciousness displayed above with the help of three different models (Maslow, Gebser, Graves). The Graves model of Spiral Dynamics on the right hand side sees to be the most comprehensive model. This may seem like gibberish at first so one thing that is helpful for us is that we can divide these various stages into three general categories to help us get our feet wet. These three categories are egocentric, ethnocentric, and world-centric.

Egocentric stages are stages where a person is only concerned with themselves. We see this stage is new-born babies who cry when hungry, tired or uncomfortable. We also see this in the earliest human beings who sought to satisfy their needs whether it be food, sex, shelter from the elements, etc. Egocentric stages of awareness are found in the bottom three levels, Infrared, Magenta, and Red.

The next category is ethnocentric which indicates a progression from egocentric in that you are now concerned not only with yourself, but with your tribe, village, city, nation, denomination. I like to think of this as the “We are the Champions” stage. “We kick ass and you suck”. The stages of awareness that display an ethnocentric world-view are typically found in the red and amber stages or when I’m watching Cardinals football.

The third category is world-centric which transcends both ego and ethnocentric because it not only is concerned with “I” and “Us” but it also is concerned with “ALL of Us”. I like to call this the “We Are The World” category. It can be found in institutions like the United Nations and NATO, environmentalist groups, civil rights and various other human rights movements. It communicates an empathy for different cultures and beliefs. It seeks to repair the division that both the ego-centric and ethnocentric world-views have thrived on for centuries but finds this task difficult because the lower levels of awareness “just don’t get it!”. The world-centric value system is found in both orange and green.

So that is a very basic overview of the various stages within the first tier levels or awareness. There are two things to keep in mind here. First, in describing the various levels, I realize that I’m over-generalizing. My intention is primarily to give you an basic idea of how this fits together and I’m fully aware that in doing so, we are sort of skipping the nuances of human life. Although we all have our center of gravities at a certain level, we can find ourselves operating at different levels based on the various life experiences we face. For example, I view myself as someone who’s center of gravity is in Green but if someone harasses my wife or daughter, I have no problem dropping down to red and getting dirty.

The second thing to consider are the different tiers listed on the right side of the graph (First, Second, Third). The reason that all the stages from Infrared to Green are considered first tier is that within this tier, each level firmly believes that it is the only right stage. For example, Green environmentalists will blow up a bunch of Hummers at a Hummer dealership because the use of hummers obviously doesn’t line up with their worldview. Orange capitalists hate green higher environmental standards because they require costly changes that will hurt the bottom line. Red foreign policy leaders will despise the green multinational organizations like the UN and NATO because they limit Red’s autonomy. Again, this is a bit of over-generalizing, but I think this holds true with the various trends we see in our culture today.

At the second tier levels of awareness, something interesting starts to happen. At these levels, one recognizes that all first tier levels are necessary. Second tier sees that within all the first tier levels, there are both good and bad, benefits and limits. Teal awareness, the first of the second tier levels, honors the desire of green to restore the division of the lower levels, but unlike green, it begins to reintroduce healthy hierarchies. So while green has lots of good intentions and desires for the world, it generally lacks the ability of orange and amber to get organized and solve problems. Second tier awareness is able to recognize this and begin to address the problem from a much more integral perspective. On this subject, it’s going to be fascinating to see if Al Gore can achieve any real success on his initiatives to merge the environmental and wall street crowds to make alternative energy a business that can last. That would truly be the marriage of the Green and Orange world-view.

In a christian context, this applies really well to what’s happening in and around the Emergent/emerging Christianity issue. As the green Emergent or progressive Christians seem to be growing in number, the Amber conservatives are living up to their level’s description of fighting for the “truth”. I pray, as we move forward, that we can step back and see each other’s benefits and not live in fear of each other. We’ll see what happens. Until then, onwards and upwards.

If any of this interests you, look up Spiral Dynamics and tweak out……haha. thanks for reading.


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