A Fresh Approach To Unlearning Racism

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TITLE: "Spiral Dynamics--A Fresh Approach To Unlearning Racism"


  1. To enable participants to understand that the roots of racism and prejudice are not found in our genes, but in our memes--deep level value systems.
  2. To uncover the operating value systems undergirding the intolerance and inhumanity.
  3. To show how the learning gained can be applied to the world of the participants.
  4. To show how we must move from Civil War and Civil Rights, to Civil Transformation.

INSTRUCTOR: Caleb Rosado (Ph.D., Northwestern University), a former university professor of sociology, has been a consultant on issues of diversity and change since 1978.

LENGTH: Two 8-hour days

FOR WHOM?: Everyone, but especially for law enforcement, business, educators, civic leaders.

SUMMARY: As the dawn of the 21st century nears, racism, the most important and persistent social problem in America and in the world today, is on the rise in manifold ways. Whether we are talking about ethnic cleansings, tribal conflicts, warring factions, group hatred, subtle discrimination, or retraction of equity laws under the guise of fairness, the underlying result is the same. One group, threatened by a perceived loss of power, exercises social, economic, political, and religious muscle against the Other to retain privilege by restructuring for social advantage. Where lies the solution?

Biology exacerbates racism by providing physical markers, which separate us first in our minds. Out of these mental constructs come the social constructs that then separate us in society, and are undergirded by Power--the preservation of privilege! Both of these constructs, however, are merely surface issues, differences in one dimension. The problem with the usual approaches in diversity training to resolve racial, ethnic, gender conflict, is that the focus is on the surface container (race, skin color, gender) rather than on the contents of the container (value systems--how people think and act in terms of the world they are in). The result is a failure to recognize that racism and diversity function on two dimensions--Horizontal and Vertical. To comprehend these two dimensions one first needs to grasp Spiral Dynamics.

Spiral Dynamics is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual framework for understanding human development and human systems. It unveils the hidden codes and dynamic, spiral forces that shape human nature, create global diversities, and drive social change. Developed by Don E. Beck and Christopher C. Cowan of the National Values Center, Inc. in Texas, from two converging streams of thought--primarily, Clare W. Graves' Value Systems theory of 'levels of human existence' and, secondarily, biologist Richard Dawkins' concept of 'memes'--Spiral Dynamics explores the new science of memetics, the study of ideas and their transmission. Memes are cultural units of information that self-replicate by means of thought-contagion, using the human mind as a host, and attach themselves to individuals, organizations, entire cultures, and societies. They culturally impact the body politic, just like genes, the code carriers of DNA, biologically impact the body physical.

Spiral Dynamics shifts the focus from the WHAT of human behavior, the surface issues, beliefs, actions, artifacts, and values--the memes--that fragment or unify human groups, to the WHY and HOW of such behavior--the vMEMEs--the core Value Systems awakened by changing life conditions and manifested as a dynamic spiral of levels of human existence.

Memes operate on two levels, horizontally and vertically. The Horizontal dimension is the surface level of human relations, the area where our differences--color, gender, status, language, physical features, culture, values, worldviews, and national origin--conflict. To focus on these surface differences, the what--the container--is to miss the larger picture, the Vertical dimension, the why and how of human action--the contents. This is the area of Value Systems, the big memes, or vMEMEs--the core intelligences, conceptual schemes, and frameworks for beliefs and behaviors, from which emerge the surface differences, the little memes. Ninety-five percent of all diversity training, workshops for unlearning racism, conflict resolution, motivational training, law enforcement, education, business management, and social policy planning focus on these surface differences, the Horizontal dimension.

Yet our struggle is not with human types, but with deep-level human Value Systems--vMEMEs--that like migrating, bio-psycho-social-spiritual tectonic plates, on colliding, release energy that reverberates to the surface in conflict over group differences and competition for scarce resources. The problem is not that we are White or Black, male or female, environmentalist or logger, First World or Third World, atheist or believer. It is the vMEMEs within us that are at war. Since vMEMEs are deep decision systems in people, not types of people, they transcend race, gender, age, class, culture, and societies.

Racism is a meme--a contagious idea--that infects individuals, organizations, entire cultures, and societies. And, like a deadly virus, it has contaminated all areas of life. What divides us in society, however, is not our genes, but our memes. We look different because of our genes; we think and act different because of our memes. Our genes are only Horizontal differences. It is the deep, memetic, bio-psycho-social-spiritual magnetic forces on the Vertical axis that attract and repel humanity. Racism manifests itself differently depending on the memetic level it is located. Failure to understand this results in a Flatlander approach. "Flatlanders" are persons unable to recognize the vertical, spiral structure of human existence, and thus focus on superficial differences, rigid categories, simplistic types, and on labels to put on people.

They put everyone through the same car wash, one-size-fits-all approach, paint only with broad horizontal brush strokes, as "flavor-of-the-month" consultants who project their own values, fears, and prejudices on others. The result is an insensitivity to the needs of individuals, organizations, and nations at different levels of existence. To concentrate efforts only along the Horizontal axis, is merely to catalogue biosocial traits and inventory differences. To resolve problems of human relations requires managing both axes. This is the new direction for leadership and the management of change in the 21st century.

MORE ON SPIRAL DYNAMICS: For more information on Spiral Dynamics and memes see the book by the founders of the National Values Center, Inc., Don E. Beck and Christopher C. Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change (Blackwell 1996), from where ideas for this opinion piece were drawn, or their website,



For more information contact us through the following media:

Rosado Consulting
for Change in Human Systems
Voice 215.769.3132
Fax 215.769.6785

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for Change in Human Systems.