11 Feb Overcoming Tribal Consciousness: Why People Seek Comfort from Others of the “Same Kind” Whenever They Experience Fear, Threat, and Uncertainty
Ralph H. Kilmann, co-author of the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument (TKI)
Recently, I reread three books that, as a total set, inspired me to revisit my understanding of human nature and, in particular, to learn why people seem to cling to their racial, ethnic, and/or religious identities whenever they feel especially threatened about their prospects for survival and success. During my recent rereading adventure, I was also able to surmise why human beings commit violent acts that can then lead to civil wars, which, in fact, are rapidly increasing across the globe. In essence, pondering what I gleaned from those three books has enabled me to revise my false assumptions about these consequential matters, so I can now develop a more valid (and useful) understanding of the individual and organizational dynamics that lead one tribe—that is primarily based on a particular demographic identity, such as race, ethnicity, or religion—to engage in animosity (let alone civil war) against another tribe that is based on a different demographic identity.
Since you might now be interested to learn what I’ve been reading lately … here are the three books that opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of human nature during our increasingly polarizing times: The first book is authored by two cognitive psychologists who studied the role of the human brain in mediating how we habitually react—and/or mindfully respond—to our external environment (Leahey and Harris, 2001). The second book is written by an integral philosopher who specializes in transpersonal psychology and the progression of human consciousness from conception to the highest stages of spiritual enlightenment (Wilber, 2007). Lastly, the third book is authored by a political scientist who specializes in violence, territoriality, civil war, conflict, and peace (Walter, 2022).
In essence, rereading those three books left me wondering about the long-term consequences of children growing up from conception to adulthood in mostly homogeneous environments versus children growing up in heterogenous environments—regarding the classic demographic distinctions of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual identity, educational level, socioeconomic status, language, and geographic location.
Specifically, in a homogeneous environment, a human being develops from a fetus to an adult while being primarily surrounded by parents and others who look, sound, think, talk, believe, and behave similarly:
In sharp contrast, in a heterogeneous environment, a human being develops from a fetus to an adult while being prominently exposed to parents and others who are a clearly recognizable MIXTURE of DIVERSE races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, gender identities, sexual identities, educational levels, and so forth:
In this article, I discuss how the homogeneous and/or heterogeneous environments that are experienced throughout the fetus-to-adult development process primarily determine whether a person’s consciousness will initially evolve from an egocentric to an ethnocentric perspective (also called “tribal consciousness”); next, whether the ethnocentric stage of consciousness then evolves to a worldcentric perspective; and then, whether that worldcentric stage of consciousness eventually evolves to an all-encompassing spiritcentric perspective, which fully honors all forms of life, including the planet Earth itself as well as the entire universe. Expanding consciousness from an egocentric or ethnocentric perspective to a worldcentric perspective (or expanding consciousness all the way to a spiritcentric perspective) will enable human beings to experience inner harmony and lasting peace—instead of remaining perpetually stuck at the lower stages of consciousness, which predictably generate the kinds of conflicts that often lead to a dysfunctional governance system, which further perpetrates violence, terrorism, civil wars, and the ongoing destruction of living forms, including our planet Earth.
Developing from a Fetus to an Adult in
When conceived by two homogeneous parents of the “same kind” (with respect to the classic demographic distinctions), the fetus typically experiences nine months of living in a fairly stable, consistently FAMILIAR environment in the womb—which would sometimes include homogeneous twins or triplets who then also grow and develop together in that same homogeneous womb/environment.
Immediately after birth, the infant is surrounded not only by its homogeneous parents, but also by other homogeneous family members, relatives, and close friends of the family (even if some doctors, nurses, visitors, or strangers are of a different race, ethnic heritage, and/or religion). I refer to this bonding experience as HOMOGENEOUS IMPRINTING: first experienced as an infant, then as a toddler, then as an adolescent, and finally as a young adult. In essence, the developing child forms a deep and lasting bond with those people in her immediate environment (especially those people who were regularly and directly encountered during the child’s earliest years in life). By growing up in such a consistent, sustained, homogeneous environment, most human beings become primarily imprinted to (and thus unconsciously attracted and attached to) similar looking and similarly sounding people, while being weakly connected with (and thus unconsciously unattracted and unattached to) different looking and different sounding people.
The initial HOMOGENEOUS IMPRINTING that takes place in a person’s earliest years in life then gets further reinforced when that same person subsequently participates in a number of institutions, organizations, and other social settings (e.g., public and private schools, religious organizations, neighborhoods, playgrounds, hospitals, retail stores, restaurants, etc.) that are ALSO primarily segregated according to race, ethnicity, religion, and/or geography (urban versus rural settings). Indeed, most children and young adults who have grown up in a series of one homogeneous environment after another will likely choose—for the rest of their lives—to surround themselves (and thus feel most familiar and comfortable) with like-minded, like-looking, and like-sounding people.
Homogeneous families might also express the expectation (either gently or forcefully) that their children should only associate with their “own kind” (in terms of ethnic background, race, religion, native language, or any other key demographic distinction) and that their children might also be expected (or required) to marry their “own kind” and then have children of their “own kind,” who will follow the same religious, ethnic, and racial conventions—and so it continues, generation after generation. Such explicit (or implicit) family expectations will further condition (domesticate) each grown child to feel most safe and most secure with people who have similar attributes: their physical features, their behavior, their speech, and their beliefs, attitudes, and values—all derived from that demographic homogeneity in the womb and that ongoing experience of demographic homogeneity in their subsequent childhood/adulthood interactions with others in all kinds of institutions, organizations, and other social settings.
I anticipate that people who have grown up within such consistent homogeneous environments will be able to expand their consciousness from an egocentric child (i.e., I’m human, but everyone else can be considered as an object and can thus be treated accordingly: I versus all others) to an ethnocentric adult who might then become stuck in this war-prone stage of “tribal consciousness” (i.e., my tribe is human, but all other tribes are made up of objects and can thus be treated accordingly: us versus them). Indeed, it’s absolutely crucial for everyone on our planet to realize that without experiencing numerous heterogeneous environments (enabling prolonged, high-quality interaction with people of different races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, etc.), it’s rather unlikely that adults will further expand their consciousness to a worldcentric perspective (i.e., we are all members of the same human species and should therefore support the further evolution of our entire human society: we are one), let alone to even further expand their consciousness in order to embrace the ultimate spiritcentric perspective (i.e., the entire universe—including all its physical matter, all its energy, and thus all of its life forms—is treated as a single, unity consciousness that encompasses ALL: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022).
The Reptilian Brain Reacts to
Fear, Threat, and Uncertainty
Let’s consider the next topic on our journey into “tribal consciousness.” It’s useful to view the human brain as being composed of three major components: a reptilian brain (i.e., the brainstem and cerebellum), a mammalian brain (i.e., the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the surrounding cortical tissues), and a human brain (i.e., the left and right cerebral hemispheres of the neocortex). Knowing how these three major components of the human brain evolved over many thousands of years (whether in sequence or in parallel) is less important than appreciating that those three components pinpoint the different regions of the brain that can become activated in a particular situation and thus can play a key role in how a person habitually reacts (or mindfully responds) to some other person or event in that same situation, depending on the potential threat and anticipated pain (or the potential joy and anticipated satisfaction) that could unfold in the near future.
When a person is faced with a threatening situation, the reptilian brain automatically activates the instinctual fight, flight, or freeze reactions through the person’s sympathetic nervous system. Those instinctive, primal, habitual reactions tend to overwhelm any attempt at rational, mindful thought and, as a result, the activated reptilian brain will always prevent the person from experiencing (or expressing) the higher-order emotions of love, joy, peace, and compassion. When the reptilian brain is activated, anger, fear, shame, guilt, and grief are the only emotions that are expressed for the time being, which thus prevents the person from responding to the perceived threat in a more relaxed, rational, thoughtful, loving, kind, and compassionate manner.
The reptilian brain is thus exclusively focused on the potential threats in the immediate situation (such as experiencing an unfamiliar and thus potentially threatening animal, person, problem, or conflict), while entirely ignoring those aspects of the situation that are non-threatening (as in highly familiar and thus seemingly safe). For example, the reptilian brain is quick to notice and then react (fight, flight, or freeze) when a mountain lion suddenly appears from behind a large boulder on a hiking trail. But that same reptilian brain doesn’t pay attention to the many beautiful flowers that are blooming along that same path. Noticing those beautiful flowers has little or no survival value, but quickly reacting to a threatening animal that appears from behind a large boulder (via fight, flight, or freeze) does have enormous survival value, since that person now has the best chance to stay alive and, hopefully, remain unharmed.
When a person is exposed to information (via live conversations, emails, text messages, or posts on social media), the reptilian brain will also focus the person’s attention on what is negative, alarming, incredulous…. in a word, whatever could be threatening in the near term or long term. But at the same time, the reptilian brain will ignore (not even notice) the written or oral messages that are positive, uplifting, and instantly reassuring … all that is “familiar” and “comfortable” to the person (such as the beautiful flowers along a hiking trail). It should come as no surprise, therefore, that negative posts on social media accounts receive many more “likes” than do positive posts. Specifically, reading positive statements on the internet might be somewhat comforting to people, but paying special attention to the dire warnings that regularly appear on social media platforms could actually save lives … so most people especially “like” to read those warning messages about bad things possibly happening, whether those doomsday messages are true or false.
Moreover, as the reptilian brain remains fixated on scanning its immediate environment for potential threats, the person usually makes a concerted effort (even if largely unconscious) to keep any threatening signs and signals very close at hand (“close to the vest,” so to speak) by continually investigating the environment (and social media platforms) for any additional clues as to what bad thing might happen next, just in case that initially threatening situation becomes even worse and thus the person might then get even more harmed than first feared. As might be predicted: People who feel threatened and afraid might soon become thoroughly obsessed with—and thus addicted to—spending more and more time and energy investigating the threats in their situation: continually searching for additional confirmation that would help them determine if the threat is either real or imagined. In the process, such frightened people may inadvertently exaggerate (magnify) the threatening signs and signals in the situation, as they continue to express—and disseminate on social media—even more extreme views and incredulous conspiracy theories about what bad things might hurt them as well as their loved ones.
Being Surrounded by Homogeneity and Familiarity
When fear, threat, and uncertainty are experienced in any situation, people who grew up in one homogeneous environment after another will feel greater safety and security when they are surrounded with FAMILIAR others or at least others who have similar physical features, language, beliefs, attitudes, values, and behavior. More specifically, when a WHITE person (who has only experienced homogeneous environments throughout his lifetime) perceives a significant threat, that person will likely experience the most safety and security in the presence of other WHITE people (who might also have the same ethnic background, native language, participate in the same religious conventions, and live in the same neighborhood). In the case of a homogeneous upbringing, the more a person experiences FAMILIARITY and SIMILARITY in the presence of others, the more safety and security the person will feel for the time being.
In contrast, let’s explore the case when a person who has grown up in homogeneous environments perceives a significant threat, but now, the other people in that threatening situation are considerably DIFFERENT in their physical features and demographic attributes. Consider, for example, when my car breaks down at dusk while I’m driving through a mostly BLACK neighborhood. If I am WHITE, being in that setting with unfamiliar BLACK people on the sidewalks and in the streets will leave me feeling more unsafe and insecure—and I’m also more likely to respond to those unfamiliar others with fight, flight, or freeze than if my car had broken down in a mostly WHITE neighborhood. When homogeneously trained people are in a threatening situation, it’s the similarity, familiarity, and the like-mindedness in that situation that provides their reptilian brain, along with the parasympathetic nervous system, with at least some semblance of safety and security in order for them to react to the threat as best they can.
Losing—or Attempting to Reclaim—One’s Territory
Similar to what drives reptiles and mammals to engage in what has become known as, “territorial behavior,” human beings also stake out and then defend their “claimed territories” that, in the broadest sense, can include “their” land, “their” home, “their” job, “their” status in society, “their” leadership positions in business, “their” political and religious organizations, “their” authority to make decisions and take action that affect their quality of life, and so forth. In fact, reptiles, mammals, and humans will fight to the death to protect their “claimed territory” (what’s “theirs”) from either real or imagined threats, and will also fight to the death to take back their former “territories” (e.g., “their” land, home, job, status, etc.) that have previously been seized or claimed by other people (who usually have different demographic characteristics than the people who lost their territories).
As you might have realized by now, a claimed territory is usually meant to support a homogeneous tribe, especially if its members have long experienced homogeneous environments (from fetus to adulthood). History shows few, if any, examples of a meaningful territory that was claimed for a heterogenous community of different races, ethnicities, religions, etc. As such, the typical fear with tribal (ethnocentric) consciousness is about losing existing territory (or failing to regain previously lost territory) for one homogeneous community of human beings in conflict with another homogeneous community of “different” human beings—who are often viewed as “objects” and not real people: us versus “them” once again.
Satisfying Higher-Order Needs versus Lower-Order Needs
When there is little or no threat to survival, human beings can spend most of their time and energy satisfying their “higher-order” needs for love, esteem, kindness, compassion, achievement, and self-actualization (Maslow, 1954). But when anyone’s “lower-order” needs for safety and security are threatened, the reptilian brain, once again, activates the instinctual fight, flight, or freeze reactions to protect the person from any real or imagined threats in the situation. Not until those threats have subsided, however, will human beings be able to again proceed with the mindfulness and compassion that can be accessed in their mammalian brain and their human brain—both of which are used for creative thinking, mindfully exploring available options, and then responding with compassionate and ethical action.
If the institutions that govern a local community (or the various institutions that govern an entire nation) make it difficult or impossible for the citizens to feel safe and secure (which pertains to their lower-order needs) and also make it difficult for them to satisfy their needs for succeeding in a job, career, or profession (which pertains to their high-order needs), those human beings will no longer respect that ineffective system of governance. Basically, if people believe that their SURROUNDING SYSTEMS have failed them, why would they continue to follow those dysfunctional and self-defeating rules, laws, and procedures? Only when people’s most important needs are being satisfactorily fulfilled with the support of an effective system of governance will citizens risk their lives to safeguard their SURROUNDING SYSTEMS.
What makes a system functional or dysfunctional? This question continues to be debated according to three different forms of governance: a democratic government, an autocratic government, and an anocratic government (which combines various features of both a democracy and an autocracy). Some of the key defining characteristics of these different forms of governance include: (1) whether different people, distinguished by race, ethnic background, religion, and geographical location (e.g., urban vs. rural), have equal opportunity to participate in all their society’s institutions and its overall system of governance; (2) whether elections are fair, competitive, respected, and equally accessible to all people and communities in that country, which includes a peaceful transition of power following every election cycle (at the local, state, and national levels); and (3), whether the government’s public services are keeping its members safe and secure, happy and healthy, along with an equal opportunity to enroll in educational programs, to apply for jobs and promotions, and whether all members of that society are treated with respect and compassion (without regard to any demographic distinctions).
People Need Others to Validate their
Beliefs and Sense of Reality
Let’s now consider the INHERENT INSECURITY AND UNCERTAINTY that afflicts all human beings to one degree or another: While some people are more confident and self-assured than others, virtually every person experiences some INSECURITY and UNCERTAINTY about who they are, their self-value and self-worth, and whether they will be liked and loved by others. I have found that people’s misgivings (i.e., doubts) about their self-value and self-worth compels them to NEED other people’s opinions and beliefs to be similar, if not identical, to their own—to affirm their very existence as well as the VALUE of their existence. This human need to be accepted, liked, and loved then compels people to associate with only other human beings who share their looks, language, beliefs, attitudes, values, and behavior. Indeed, people often search out and remain members of homogeneous groups, since that arrangement allows a threatened and insecure person to retreat to a very familiar and thus comfortable “womb” (a homogeneous community) to ward off the anxiety and uncertainty of what horrible things could be happening very soon.
Indeed, if you believe what I believe, we must both be right. If we are both right about something central to our lives, we can both feel more self-assured about who we are and be more confident that we have an accurate perception of reality (and the nature of the threats before us). But the extent to which I question my self-value and self-worth, if you disagree with me on anything that matters to me, that disagreement will likely make me feel even more INSECURE AND UNCERTAIN about who I am and whether I am a likable and lovable person, and whether the threat is real or merely imagined. In some cases, I might stop interacting, emailing, and/or texting with people who have fundamentally different beliefs than I have, which, not surprisingly, often stems from underlying differences in race, ethnic background, religion, language, and geography. As a result, I’m even further inclined to associate with only those people who are most like me—so I feel more safe, secure, liked, and loved for who I am. As I experience more threats in my environment, my reptilian brain is even more eager for me to remain in strictly homogeneous settings—so I can be with people who are just like me, so I will feel less threatened and less likely to react with fight, flight, or freeze, as I do when I’m in settings with people who are very different from me in many ways (racial, ethnic, religious, and otherwise).
Our world has become increasingly complex, chaotic, uncertain, and thus more threatening to its human inhabitants, which is largely due to the continued trends in globalization, deregulation of industries, diversity in the workplace, climate change, civil wars, stagnating or declining economies, and the accelerated migration of disenfranchised and war-torn members from struggling and victimized communities or countries. Making matters even worse, the threatening trends in the world are being further fueled by global access to the internet and, because of that widespread access to millions and billions of people across the planet, there has been an onslaught of misinformation and disinformation that’s being disseminated on unregulated social media platforms. Indeed, several of those social media platforms include “algorithms” to significantly enhance your “engagement” on their website, which then presents you with more and more misleading (false) information in an increasingly extreme (radical) form, including grossly fabricated conspiracy theories, all of which serve to increase the threat that “someone is trying to hurt you” or “someone is trying to get rid of you” or “the system is replacing you with immigrants from corrupt countries that abuse their fellow citizens.”
When you spend most of your time WITHIN a pure homogeneous community and when you continue to monitor the warning messages on one or more social media platforms, it’s more likely that you, perhaps against your mindful self, are being “radicalized” to a conspiracy theory that claims to know WHO is (or will be) doing a horrible thing to you—including WHY, WHEN, and HOW—which serves to move you even further away from being able to develop an accurate and thus more useful understanding of reality. In the worst cases, your homogeneous tribe, along with the increasing radicalized social media posts that are being directed to you because of your previous “likes” and associations and search behavior … will lead you to develop a highly distorted (false) understanding of a complex situation, which you might then fight to the death to defend.
When All Hope Dies—It’s Time for War
So long as the different factions or tribes in society still believe that they’ll retain their claimed territories and will continue to play meaningful roles in the current and future systems of governance, they will remain hopeful that their way of life will be preserved into the distant future. But when the deliberate action (or lack of necessary action) of the government results in one or more communities losing their sacred territories and their previous equal (let alone superior) role in the local, state, or federal government, the threatened citizens of one or more homogeneous tribes will then follow the dictates of their activated reptilian brains and, as a result, will collectively choose to fight, flight, or freeze to address the threats in the situation. In addition, if guns, explosives, and other weapons are readily available to the members of those homogeneous communities, and if some of those tribal members have had prior military training and combat experience, then the loss of hope in those communities can easily lead to an outright civil war among two or more homogeneous-based (demographic-based) factions in society.
When People Have Developed a Disdain for
Authority in Their Family of Origin
A powerful psychodynamic that makes civil war even more likely is the relationship that the tribe members have with AUTHORITY, particularly the kind of authority that they experienced as children in their family of origin. When parents have “overly controlled” their children (and thus discouraged them from thinking for themselves, making their own decisions, and then directly experiencing the resulting consequences), the human beings who have lived through an overly controlling environment in childhood may become “counter-dependent” and thereby MISTRUST all authority (and all authority figures) in other organizations and institutions—perhaps much beyond their disdain for the overbearing authority that they experienced in their family of origin. Essentially, adults who were overly controlled in their childhood may not have experienced the best outcomes while being “forced” to comply with the dictates and demands of their parents and guardians.
These counter-dependent adults may therefore resist any “orders” or “requests” or “commands” made by superiors, since these authority-wounded adults are “sick and tired” of taking orders from others (starting with their parents). These same adults might also be more inclined to participate in demonstrations and protests against the government (for its “misuse” of authority), which could eventually lead to armed conflict to overthrow “the system.” In the worse cases, such counter-dependent people who have survived an overly controlling family of origin stand ready to “blow up” the existing SYSTEMS OF AUTHORITY … as they get more and more radicalized to counteract how the government is overly controlling their lives— just as they experienced in their own childhood and young adulthood.
Let’s now examine how another kind of “negative reaction to authority” can occur from the opposite parental behavior: Instead of children being overly controlled by their parents, consider when children are essentially abandoned by their parents—as when parents provide little or no protection to ensure that their children experience a safe and secure environment for their sustained growth and development. In the latter case. when parents have abdicated their role and responsibility for safeguarding their children, the family “systems” have again failed to work properly, but for a different reason: In the latter case, adults who suffered from having been abandoned by their parents might also develop a rather combative relationship with authority and the surrounding systems of governance.
What happens when the “authority-challenged” members of a homogeneous tribe (who were either overly controlled or consistently abandoned during their childhood) attempt to make sense of what’s going on in their everyday life? They might spend a lot of time on social media platforms, doing their best to stay up to date on the latest conspiracy theories that describe how the government (the ultimate authority figure) is trying to take away their claimed territory (their land, property, status, job, authority, voting rights, access to resources, etc.), the seeds of civil war have been further fertilized and may soon sprout (erupt) into a VIOLENT CONFLICT that seeks to weaken if not destroy the authority of the government—just as we have already experienced in the storming of the U.S. Capital in Washington DC on January 6, 2021.
When People Have Been Exposed to
Mental Illness in Their Family of Origin
Here is a key question that reveals the soft underbelly of all communication (written and oral) that occurs within—and between—homogeneous communities: What is REAL versus what is UNREAL or FAKE (i.e., a significantly distorted or entirely untrue statement)? It would take too much time to review the extensive body of literature on mental illness, including the variety of psychological disorders and how those various disorders can make it much more difficult for a person to discern what is really real and what is absolutely fake. In other words, when people have experienced (let alone acquired) one or more ways to substantially distort or entirely fabricate reality (whether purposely or unconsciously), it will be even more difficult for them to know what’s true and what isn’t … which gets at the heart of whether one can believe what one homogeneous community is saying about another homogeneous community—let alone what to believe about the thousands of doomsday messages that appear on social media platforms.
Let’s consider the classic “defense mechanisms” that people use to cope with the stresses and strains of LIFE: denial, displacement, projection, rationalization, reaction formation, repression, and sublimation. People often use these “reality-bending” or “reality-twisting” approaches to reduce the “sting” of what hurts, what is scary, and what bad things might happen soon … and thereby those defense mechanisms temporarily lessen the threat or danger in the situation. For example, if I DENY what is happening to me, then, at least for the time being, I’m less affected by that threat since I’ve blocked it out of my conscious mind. And if I am scared about something else, I might DISPLACE my fear (act it out) on another person (or on some other homogeneous community), which, at least for the time being, enables me to reduce some of my anxiety about what’s really threatening me right now.
In other cases, however, people are not able to simply bend or slightly twist reality for the purpose of protecting themselves from the latest fear or threat. Instead, some people make a total “break” from the existing reality with these (unconscious) “strategies” that invent a different version of reality: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking and speech, hearing voices, paranoia, and schizophrenia. These variants of “psychosis” don’t just distort reality, they destroy reality, which then creates an alternative reality.
What if a child is surrounded by parents and/or guardians who have serious mental health challenges, so that the entire family is prone to using various defense mechanisms and/or significant breaks from reality in order to cope with the stresses and strains of family life? In essence, if a person was constantly exposed to such distortions and fabrications of reality during her childhood, the grown adult will find it even more difficult to discern the truth of something when some significant threat appears on the horizon. In fact, when a child experiences mental distortions and fabrication of reality throughout her development process, how can she ever know when someone is solidly IN TOUCH with reality versus when someone is totally OUT OF TOUCH with reality? Indeed, prolonged childhood exposure to mental illness will make distortions and fabrications of reality seem altogether NORMAL … and what is experienced as NORMAL is then treated as entirely REAL.
It should now be apparent that there’s a clear and present danger whenever people have acquired unconscious strategies that tamper with reality. In particular, adults who have been previously exposed to serious mental health issues throughout their childhood will feel most comfortable (at home) when they are again surrounded by other adults who have also developed the same kinds of mental health challenges as the person’s own family of origin. As we have seen before, FAMILIARITY breeds COMFORT, along with the false confidence that “what we believe is really REAL.”
Not surprisingly, because of their familiarity with the distortion and fabrication of reality throughout their childhood, those adults will tend to join organizations and institutions that also include members who have had similar mental health challenges in their family of origin. Keep this in mind: Familiarity breeds attraction AND commitment—due to HOMOGENEOUS IMPRINTING. But also keep in mind that the attraction to what is FAMILIAR is essentially an UNCONSCIOUS process: Adults will find themselves in the SAME situation, with the same kinds of people, again and again (just as they experienced in their childhood) and it’s rarely obvious to them exactly HOW that attraction, attachment, and commitment took place. By the way, the words “family” and “familiar” share the same root word in Latin: familiaris. Thus, family IS familiar (and vice versa) and that is why human beings are mysteriously drawn to constantly replicate the FAMILIAR dynamics of their original FAMILY, which includes unconsciously designing their organizations (and choosing their leaders) to mirror the FAMILIAR dynamics of their childhood experiences.
Now is a good time to consider just how difficult it is for adults to know the truth of something if they experienced: (1) an overly controlling family of origin throughout their childhood (which means they probably have developed counter-dependent behavior toward all forms of AUTHORITY) and (2) how their family of origin regularly distorted and fabricated what is real and what is fake, due to mental health defenses and disorders. Adults who have experienced BOTH these developmental challenges will be most vulnerable to being radicalized on social media platforms and, in time, to become members of one or more extreme homogeneous communities that are eager to initiate a civil war, once they and the other members of their community have lost all hope that their way of life will survive into the distant future.
Given that there are probably quite a few overly controlling families in our society that have also acquired a variety of serious mental health challenges, we must find ways to help these struggling adults discover a healthier approach to knowing what is real or what is not real … so they can make the best decisions for improving the quality of life for their communities and countries. At a minimum, we must find ways to enable all our citizens to evolve from ethnocentric consciousness to worldcentric consciousness, which will bring them closer to seeing things as they are, not as projected wounds that have never healed from childhood.
Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that some extreme, radical, incredulous conspiracy theories might actually be true! Sometimes, people do meet in secret, behind closed doors, and conspire to bring guns and explosives to some upcoming demonstration … which they plan to USE in order to bring needed attention to their ongoing grievances against the government. And for their justification to use such violent means during that demonstration, they cite FACTS about how the government has already harmed their community. These supporting facts might be 100% accurate. One can certainly disagree with the use of violence to make a point during a protest, but at least this “conspiracy theory” is rooted in reality—since it’s based on verifiable evidence of what previously took place.
However, the worrisome problem about knowing what is really real enters into the discussion whenever people either grossly exaggerate facts or create new facts that are simply not true (what has been called, “alternative facts”). The latter is not reality … but just another outlandish conspiracy theory that gets more extreme and radical every time it’s shared on social media platforms with other, similar, tribal communities, which may often add a comment here and there that argues for the validity of the claim … but with no verifiable evidence to support such a radical conspiracy theory, as was the case with the widely circulated lie that “the 2020 U.S. presidential election was stolen.”
Attempting to assist all citizens to stay in touch with reality has therefore become a much bigger problem than ever before. Essentially, we must decide if everyone is free to make up their own facts and thus to make up their own reality. (I hope the latter approach does NOT become the established norm!) Next, there must then be a dedicated, highly transparent effort to investigate the real, documented evidence behind any factual claim (which is clearly specified so that others can easily determine its veracity), which will then allow a large cross-community assembly of citizens to endorse a CONSENSUAL REALITY—one that has been thoroughly subjected to extensive discussion and debate across different homogeneous communities.
When Heterogeneous Environments
Become Familiar, Safe, and Secure
Let’s now consider the rather rare case when human beings have experienced mostly HETEROGENEOUS others throughout their lifetime, starting from the moment of conception (with the two parents being of different races, ethnic backgrounds, and/or religions) and then continuing into adulthood by attending desegregated institutions that serve a highly diverse clientele with highly diverse employees—from the corporate boardroom on the top of the management hierarchy all the way to the front-line employees on the bottom of the organization chart. In the process, these heterogeneously raised adults are more likely to develop intimate relationships with diverse others, next marry or cohabitate with a person who embodies very different demographic attributes, and then give birth to (or care for) one or more diverse children, which then puts into motion the next generation of heterogeneously nurtured—and spiritually inspired—human beings.
In this atypical scenario, such heterogeneously raised human beings only know diversity … the experience of diversity is therefore totally normal, natural, expected, and entirely FAMILIAR to them. Indeed, I expect that if such a person were placed in a totally segregated environment for an extended period of time, it would seem rather strange to them and, therefore, quite UNFAMILIAR. Ironically, people who have been raised in entirely heterogeneous settings might feel somewhat UNCOMFORTABLE if they are NOT surrounded by the wide display of diversity that they have experienced in most of the other social settings and institutions throughout their lifetime. In fact, I expect that heterogeneously raised people will be able to interact most comfortably (and effectively) in a highly diverse setting by using the most mindful features of their mammalian brain and their human brain, while that third component, their reptilian brain, which initiates fight, flight, or freeze reactions to real or imagined threats, would remain deactivated.
Given the overarching mission of achieving and then maintaining WORLD PEACE, one long-term solution to minimize the extensive damage and destruction from elongated civil wars (based on the escalating conflicts among different homogeneous tribes) is to “encourage” (or at least implicitly support) diverse marriages that produce diverse children who are later placed in diverse schools with diverse teachers in diverse neighborhoods with education that celebrates diversity as the ultimate cornerstone of a more humane and peaceful society. This “long-term solution” can effectively utilize ALL the available expertise, knowledge, and experience of many diverse global citizens in order to resolve the most wicked problems and conflicts that swirl across the planet.
Now a most important question comes to light: How does a society encourage (explicitly and implicitly) the establishment of many more diverse families, neighborhoods, schools, and all other types of organizations? One approach is to NURTURE NEUTRALITY (involving no judgment of self or others whatsoever) when human beings choose heterogeneity over homogeneity. But is it possible to do more than to be neutral or slightly supportive of diversity in all social settings and institutions? Can our business and government leaders ACTIVELY ENCOURAGE diversity as a long-term strategy to bring WORLD PEACE, happiness, and success to the human race?
It is one thing for our leaders to encourage diversity in all their written words and oral communications… but we need to realize that “the problem” of people being excessively comfortable and compatible with homogeneity (and thus being entirely uncomfortable and incompatible with heterogeneity) cannot be resolved by simply attempting (even if totally sincere) to use mere worlds to persuade people to change their long-standing behavior that has been sanctioned by so many institutions for so many thousands of years.
In fact, all my experience in working with organizations has taught me to deeply appreciate the SURROUNDING SYTEMS that significantly influence human beliefs, attitudes, and behavior—once the fetus is born. Indeed, I have often cited (and many other scholars agree) that 80% (or more) of people’s behavior is determined by the requirements or demands of their SURROUNDING SYSTEMS while only 20% (or less) of human behavior is determined by each person’s own personal preferences.
Bottom line: Human beings—starting with their journey in the womb and then proceeding through their decades-long process of further ego and spiritual development in one social setting or another—are powerfully shaped by their external environment (for better or worse). To succeed at instilling the value and practice of heterogeneity throughout our human society, we must fundamentally change the SURROUNDING SYSTEMS to actively support the best intentions of our most enlightened and evolved leaders. Otherwise, any repeated pleas for greater diversity with simply fall on deaf ears. Basically, if all we have are words, slogans, articles, and books to inspire systemwide change, such verbal and written attempts cannot, by themselves, result in any real systemic change that will ERADICATE systemic racism, ERADICATE systemic gender inequality, ERADICATE systemic prejudice about non-traditional sexual identities and lifestyles, and ERADICATE systemic conflicts among the religions in the world.
Incidentally, by the word “systemic”, I mean the attributes (often subtle and elusive) of SURROUNDING SYSTEMS that were previously designed (explicitly or inadvertently) to lock people into homogeneous factions in a way that they can never form a heterogenous community with diverse citizens. Conversely, what we need is a dedicated and sustained effort to identify—and transform—the formal and informal systems that have the ultimate power to create and sustain HETEROGENEOUS families, communities, and organizations throughout human society.
Can you even imagine a human society that experiences a dramatic increase in mixed marriages (across ALL demographic distinctions), which then produces highly diverse children who later join all kinds of diverse organizations and social settings? What if the human landscape became so obviously diverse that it was no longer possible to visibly detect any “purebred” (homogeneous) races, ethnicities, and religions?
The Potential Benefits of
Mixed Marriages and Mixed Children
In the world of dogs, we speak of “breeds” … to highlight homogeneity in its purest form, whereby each differentiated breed of dog looks and acts very differently in very predictable ways. We can then compare a purebred dog to a mixed breed dog. Using this same analogy, instead of populating the Earth with purebred humans from purebred families who then join purebred organizations (which only serves to keep society solidly stuck in tribal consciousness), promoting demographic diversity across all communities and countries could result in creating a world of mixed marriages that procreate mixed breed children.
If such a far-out scenario for establishing greater diversity actually occurred in reality (and did not just appear in my imagination), I wonder what those diverse human beings would then do if they STILL needed to target and hate other human beings who are different from them (in other identifiable ways that are not racial, ethnic, or religious). Indeed, if people are fundamentally INSECURE AND UNCERTAIN about their self-value and self-worth, even if they are diverse themselves across the usual demographic distinctions, they might still NEED to disparage others so they can feel better about themselves—by feeling more “superior” to those “lesser” others and, as a result, perhaps feeling more lovable themselves. If the latter were the case, then even creating a world of “mixed breed humans” would not entirely solve the “lack of diversity” problem. Human beings, if seriously stuck in the ethnocentric stage of consciousness, would still be driven to look for DIFFERENT ATTRIBUTES of people to demean, hate, and keep segregated (geographically and psychologically) into ethnocentric compartments (as in segregated neighborhoods): us versus them.
Consequently, even if we could create greater diversity through mixed marriages and their subsequent multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and/or multi-religious children, there’s still a dire need to assist people in expanding their consciousness from ethnocentric to worldcentric or, better yet, to assist all citizens of the world in manifesting their all-encompassing spiritcentric consciousness.
What is the most efficient way to promote an expansion of consciousness across the globe? It’s clear: We first need our leaders to encourage DEMOGRAPHIC DIVERSITY on all dimensions in all situations AND to then transform all the SURROUNDING SYSTEMS to actively encourage and then reward the expansion of human consciousness in every organization, institution, and in all other social settings.
Implementing Eight Tracks to
Achieve Quantum Transformation
During my 50 years of studying, researching, and consulting on the two timeless topics of conflict management and change management (which together I now call, “quantum transformation”), I eventually developed a sequence of eight tracks that can redesign—and realign—an organization’s systems and processes for achieving lasting success: (1) culture track, (2) skills track, (3) team track, (4) strategy-structure track, (5) reward systems track, (6) gradual process track, (7) radical process track, and (8) learning process track.
It’s first important to understand why and how those eight tracks to quantum transformation are organized into three major components: behavioral infrastructure, formal systems, and process management. Second, it’s most important to then appreciate—and honor—the mandated sequence in which the tracks (1 through 8) must be scheduled and implemented, so the primary purpose of each track will be fully realized for the organization and all its stakeholders. The result? Heterogeneous people and their heterogeneous organizations will be able to resolve the challenging conflicts and wicked messes that are rapidly spreading throughout the world.
More specifically, the first three tracks of quantum transformation focus on the organization’s behavioral infrastructure (also known as the informal organization), which explicitly and thoroughly addresses how well the (1) culture, (2) skills, and (3) teams encourage the necessary BEHAVIOR for long-term success. The next two tracks focus on the formal systems, which are generally documented on paper or in electronic files, which GUIDE and then REWARD effective behavior and results: (4) Where are we headed (strategy) and how can we organize all our resources to get there (structure)? (5) What do we receive for helping out (rewards)? The last three tracks (6, 7, 8) then enable members to improve the quality and speed of the business and learning processes that flow within and among all the formal and informal systems, which is known as process management. For the most up-to-date discussion of the eight tracks and how to implement them effectively, see my Legacy Book: Creating a Quantum Organization (Kilmann, 2021).
What is the key principle behind the sequence of eight tracks to quantum transformation? Each previous track establishes the necessary foundation for achieving the full potential of each subsequent track. Alternatively, implementing any track out of sequence will make it especially difficult to achieve what each track is capable of providing for the organization and its members. For example, trying to renew the strategy-structure of the organization when the culture discourages members from openly expressing their true beliefs and feelings in the presence of bosses or managers will undermine any group discussion of strategy-structure and will therefore block any new strategy-structure documents from effectively guiding member behavior on the job. The same logic applies to any other out-of-sequence application of one or more tracks to quantum transformation.
Bottom line: Succeeding at quantum transformation can never be achieved by focusing on only on one change initiative at a time, while totally ignoring all the other interrelated aspects of the organization—its OTHER formal and informal systems as well as the processes that flow among them. Only by addressing the transformational process with the specified sequence of eight tracks can all the interrelated systems and processes in an organization be redesigned to make the best use of the diverse talent of all its members.
Why Only Heterogeneous Organizations
Can Resolve Today’s Wicked Messes
How can organizations and their members effectively resolve the complex, interconnected, wicked messes that are increasingly emerging in today’s global village? The rapid escalation of wicked messes on a global scale has been fueled by such trends as climate change (which causes many more natural disasters than ever before), the world-wide use of unregulated social media platforms (which promotes the kind of misinformation and disinformation that makes it even more difficult to resolve those global wicked messes), the COVID-19 pandemic and future pandemics that threaten our health and very existence (which spread rapidly across the globe with international travel), and the increasing outbreak of civil wars and international wars (violence between communities and between countries that are divided by racial, ethnic, religious, and geographical lines and also have easy access to weapons and explosives).
One key lesson is crystal clear: Our widespread, familiar, HOMOGENEOUS families, communities, organizations, and institutions will only make it more difficult to resolve those escalating problems and conflicts. Ironically, just when the global messes REQUIRE more diverse knowledge, expertise, and experience in order to implement more promising solutions to our most challenging problems and conflicts, the reptilian brain of all affected people will be even further activated, thus making it even more difficult to have a probing, mindful, and compassionate dialogue among diverse experts … which is the very thing needed to make significant headway on a global mess. Essentially, if we can’t create a supportive organizational culture (and other SURROUNDING SYSTEMS) that enable members to be super comfortable with heterogeneity (which then allows them to work effectively with diverse others with the mindfulness of their mammalian brain and their human brain), the planet’s prospect for long-term survival remains in serious jeopardy. Therefore, we MUST find ways to counteract the conditioned tendency for people to totally ignore what the “other kind” of people have to say about the issue at hand. In particular, leadership, systems, and processes must encourage people to ACTIVELY SEARCH for diversity, ACTIVELY LISTEN to different points of view from very different people, and then ENTHUSIASTICALLY CELEBRATE the greater success that results from addressing wicked messes with all the expertise, knowledge, and experience that is readily available in our global village.
To see a striking example of the alarming FAILURE to search, listen, and celebrate different approaches while addressing our wicked messes, you don’t have to look any further than the everyday clashes between U.S. congressional members of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. On a daily basis, you’ll see their activated reptilian brains, guided by their rigid tribal consciousness, continue to relentlessly demean, degrade, and disparage the OTHER side, making it virtually impossible to develop any bipartisan solution to our messy problems and conflicts. We MUST do much better than the current State of the Union.
Moving Beyond Tribal Consciousness
Leaders of all our organizations and institutions must continually proclaim the value of diversity in helping humanity resolve its most pressing complex messes. But those same leaders must then initiate—and effectively implement—a completely integrated program of quantum transformation (along the lines of the eight tracks) in order to establish (and align) the formal and informal systems in a manner that will enable members to feel especially comfortable in working with “diverse others” (without slipping into mindless fight, flight, or freeze reactions). Ideally, there should be no difference in human beings working with homogeneous others or working with heterogeneous others. In each case, members (with supportive leadership and surrounded by aligned systems and streamlined processes) can then rely on the highest functions of the human brain in order to resolve conflicts and problems in any situation—with anyone, anywhere, whether the other people in the situation are the same or different on any demographic distinction.
To enable humanity to thrive as well as survive on this planet well into the distant future, human beings must move beyond their prior conditioning that compels them to only be comfortable and mindful with other people of the “same kind,” what we have called, ethnocentric or tribal consciousness. Instead, human beings must fully embrace worldcentric consciousness (“we are one”), so they can eventually evolve to spiritcentric consciousness (“we are everything everywhere all at once”).
EXPANDING CONSCIOUSNESS across our entire planet is the most promising path to creating and maintaining WORLD PEACE.
- Barnes, Carlin., and Wills, Marketa. Understanding Mental Illness: A Comprehensive Guide for Family and Friends (New York: Skyhorse, 2019).
- Cox, Taylor, Jr. Cultural Diversity in Organizations: Theory, Research & Practice (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1993,
- Everything Everywhere All at Once. Movie directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (New York: A24, 2022).
- Harvey, Carol P., and Allard, M. June (Eds.). Understanding and Managing Diversity: Readings, Cases, and Exercises, 2nd Edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002).
- Hawkins, David R. Power vs. Force: The Hidden Dimensions of Human Behavior (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2002).
- Kilmann, Ralph H. Creating a Quantum Organization: The Whys & Hows of Implementing Eight Tracks for Long-Term Success (Newport Coast, CA: Kilmann Diagnostics, 2021).
- Leahey, Thomas H., and Richard Jackson Harris. Learning and Cognition, Fifth Edition (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 2001).
- Maslow, Abraham H. Motivation and Personality (New York: Harper & Row, 1954).
- Regan, Patrick, and Bell, Sam R. “Changing Lanes or Stuck in the Middle: Why Are Anocracies More Prone to Civil Wars?” Political Research Quarterly (Vol. 63, No. 4, 2010), pp. 747–759.
- Walter, Barbara F. How Civil Wars Start—and How to Stop Them (New York: Crown, 2022).
- Wilber, Ken. Integral Spirituality (Boston: Integral Books, 2007).
Kilmann Diagnostics offers a series of eleven recorded online courses and nine assessment tools on the four timeless topics: conflict management, change management, consciousness, and transformation. By taking these courses and passing the Final Exams, you can earn your Certification in Conflict and Change Management with the Thomas-Kilmann Instrument (TKI). For the most up-to-date and comprehensive discussion of Dr. Kilmann’s theories and methods, see his 2021 Legacy Book: Creating a Quantum Organization: The Whys & Hows of Implementing Eight Tracks for Long-term success.