The Limits Of A Relationship Boil Down To The Limits Of Its Participants

Integral theory suggests that the limits of any relationship boil down to the limits of the developmental capacities of its participants. (*) Below, I’ll show why, if true, this is an important insight.

In his essay, “The Miracle of ‘We,” which can be found in the collected volume Cohering the Integral We Space, Ken Wilber concludes:

The Integral level in individuals is a prerequisite for “Integral We” practices (although anybody can be invited to those practices; but realize that an “Integral” depth of the “We” will not be achieved in any group where the majority of those individuals are not themselves at Integral). (310, my bolding)

Let’s set aside “Integral We-ness” and instead unpack the basic elements contained in the above.

To begin with, Wilber is referring to the lower level quadrant in his AQAL model (“All quadrants all lines of development”). That lower left quadrant has to do with group formations and with culture; sometimes it is simply labeled “We.”

It might be asked: “What kind of ‘We’ is possible in any given situation?” The broader suggestion Wilber is making is that–to put the point roughly–participants in any dialogue will be hindered by the lowest common denominator. Said differently, if, in a group of four people, John and Jane aren’t very developed in terms, say, of their emotional capacities, then the group won’t be able to achieve a higher level of Integral We-ness with respect to emotionality. The group won’t be able to “go there” together.

This makes good intuitive sense. Take an example from meditation: it’s impossible for someone who’s been meditating very seriously for 40 years to speak about certain states of consciousness or direct realizations with someone who has only been meditating for 20 minutes daily for the past month. Thus, mutual understanding isn’t possible except if the adept meditator is willing to engage at the level at which beginning meditator is at.

From this case, one discernible principle operating in integral theory can be gleaned: the most developed person, according to Doshin of Integral Zen, has a responsibility to speak with those who are less developed, in the salient respects, in terms that make sense to the latter.

One benefit of integral theory is that it helps to reorient practitioners in their relationships with family, friends, acquaintances, and so on. Rather than being emotionally reactive because your brother “doesn’t get you,” could it be that your brother is at, say, an orange line of development while you’re at green? If this is correct, then while, on this theory, someone at green can speak orange’s language, it’s not true that someone at orange can speak green’s language.

Remind me: what’s the point again? Any relationship will be limited by the limits of the capacities of those in the relationship. Therefore, there really are certain things that family members and friends just can’t talk about. In lieu of feeling puffed-up pride upon coming to this realization, shouldn’t this understanding body forth in compassion?

* I’m grateful to my wife Alexandra for helping me see this basic point and for formulating it so clearly.