We have known that models are not representative of reality ever since an ant discovered a sumptuous picnic on one of its exploratory tours and wanted to give directions to its ant colleagues. Word of the culinary sensation not far from the anthill soon spread. However, all the other ants who had stayed in the nest did was draw colourful maps and show each other where the legendary picnic was. Over time, the ants forgot about the picnic and only talked about the maps.

This little parable points us to a phenomenon that often occurs in connection with mindset/ego development. We label and evaluate but only a very few of us make the actual journey. Knowing the distinction between phenomenon and explanation (picnic and map) is fundamental.

If we knew that the meaning of life was the evolution of consciousness, we could bring about a new ethical order

The special thing about research on mindset/ego development is that first the phenomena were observed and described and then a hierarchical structure was created from them. Jane Loevinger, a developmental psychologist, observed how people behaved in difficult situations and was then able to identify the prevalence of specific mindsets. The phenomena of different mindsets were thus not explored with a model that already existed.

Now that we have a model, our initial reflex is to classify the phenomena comparatively, just like in a Cartesian coordinate system. “Aha, blue, green, yellow, etc.”

Ego development shows what is and not what could be
Jane Loevinger

There is a danger of us transferring the exemplary descriptions of the model to our observations without having fully understood them. This quickly leads to a careerist and judgmental view of the characteristics of mindsets. We look at which is the “best” mindset to tackle specific issues. In doing so, we tend to overlook the fact that a new mindset offers new options for action without relinquishing the old ones.

Thus, it is readily argued that if we broadened the rationalistic-functional options for action, too little attention would be paid to the economic goals that are currently seen as the top priority. Hence, the expansion of mindset as a sensible option for economic action is rejected.

The presuppositions that come from this mindset – that environmental protection, human rights, corporate culture, female quotas and other broader perspectives, for example, could harm the economy – then mean these ways of thinking are no longer perceived as being realistic options and are not translated into action.

Market logics are often characterised by false efficiencies

Short term economic solutions are not really efficient at all; on the contrary, they prove to be uneconomical in the long run. One example is the so-called long-term liabilities of hard coal mining in the Ruhr region. If millions aren’t spent every year on pumping out the groundwater, the Ruhr will flood its banks. The long-term liabilities of Germany’s hard coal mining industry alone amount to more than 13 billion euros. Then there are the long-term liabilities of opencast lignite mining and uranium mining. Not to mention the final storage of nuclear waste for the next 200,000 years. The mere fact that a large part of this waste was until quite recently simply dumped into the sea gives us an idea of the economic, health and ecological ramifications that have yet to be seen. And all this time green electricity has been deemed too expensive. A short-sighted error of judgement.

The global market is legitimised by an unenlightened and irrational thought system. With the liberalised organisation of many areas of society (education system, health management, art market, etc.) they are removed from the influences of enlightened trade. And this is done under the unconscious premise that the market is better equipped to find solutions than an enlightened culture. We glorify ourselves as supposedly enlightened people who have the freedom to choose and overlook how we manipulate ourselves with unenlightened practices (truth denial, untruths, cruelty to others, fuelling prejudices, reinforcing unfreedoms). We have become so accustomed to these supposedly natural mechanisms of the market that we have forgotten that the task of true enlightenment is to transform these mechanisms.

Our legacy to the next generations is economic and environmental devastation, the perpetrators of which – the current economic mindsets – are neither properly acknowledged nor named. We prefer to base future forecasts on incomplete, linear and single observations of model assumptions that have long since ceased to correspond to observable phenomena. For example, an increase in gross domestic product says little about whether we are creating a world fit for our grandchildren or whether we are destroying it.

The old ways of thinking can increasingly only be legitimised through repression and denial. Hence, factory farming is justified by the need for cheap food, without acknowledging that these ways of thinking basically give the green light to deforestation, excessive fertilisation, precarious working conditions, climate damage and cruelty to people and animals. However, the consequential costs are not put into context but seen in isolation. The picnic here has long since ceased to look as good as the map.

This discrepancy between explanation and phenomenon is becoming more and more apparent and can be better understood in its complexity in a more mature mindset. Another example is how companies deal with remote working. For years there have been excuses for denying employees this flexibility, only to realise that changing established conventions is actually no problem at all. We have expanded our mindset and seen the opportunities that self-determination and time sovereignty can offer without losing the ability to act in an economically responsible way.

In this sense, the mindsets do not represent competing world views; instead, they show us a potential path of development. This begins with self-development and the ability to increasingly perceive and broaden our own ways of thinking and feeling instead of using them to label the world around us.

Research shows there are seven aspects that play a key supporting role in this personal development:

  1. Individual desire to develop
  2. Radical acceptance of what is and was
  3. Safe spaces for us to open up
  4. Supervision and self-help groups
  5. Positive reference experiences that let us feel the new
  6. Feedback and awareness of our own multiplicity
  7. Navigation skill, education, awareness of development opportunities

How these are filled with content, methods and actions depends on the individual way of life and the pending development work. Ideally, we possess a personal desire for development, are surrounded by a team of people who are pro-development, and are part of an organisation that also wants to broaden its mindset. Then we can also find effective answers to the phenomena that occur in reality, because we can better understand them in their complexity.