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The First Being Level

Clare W Graves
annotated by
Chris Cowan
July 2003

This is an extract from a handout issued by Clare W Graves at a workshop in 1982. The handout was ‘rescued’ and this extract re-published and annotated by Spiral Dynamics co-developer Chris Cowan in July 2003.

Note: Towards the end of his life, Graves used A’-N’ and B’-O’ as alternatives to G-T and H-U to emphasise the concept of the 2nd Tier and his belief that the thinking systems of the 2nd Tier were more complex reflections of the thinking systems of the 1st Tier.

More original Graves material can be found on the Clare W Graves web site . Chris Cowan can be contacted via e-mail – or the NVC Consulting web site.

Theme: Express self for what self desires and others need, but never at the expense of others, and in a manner that all life, not my life, will profit.

This is the first system in the second spiral of existence. In this system, sheer organismic life is threatened by the rape of the world by the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th subsistence levels. Thus, the A’ problems are problems such as the need to substitute for depleting natural resources, overpopulation, too much individuality, and the like – problems which require tremendous change in thinking of human kind in order to solve them. This is accomplished by a marked activation of previously uncommitted cells in the brain. These cells of the Y system* in the brain combine with the basic coping cells to form the first of the second order coping systems, N’.

Because of its prime characteristics, dissolution of fear and compulsiveness and marked increases in conceptual space, seventh level thinking cannot be readily empathised with by other people.

This type of thinking still involves anxieties, worries, and concerns, even some fears, but not in a manner bothersome to the person. No need is felt to overcome them. They do not intrude. One lives comfortably with them, tries to deal with them, but does not feel compelled to master them, though still thinking it would be nice if they were gone. Ambition is shown, but there is not ambitiousness. Anger, even hostility, is present, but it is intellectually used rather than just emotionally displayed. One directs it, rather than it’s directing the self.

Concern is felt, but solutions do not have to be found.

Care for others is displayed, but one does not feel compelled to care for. Things done well is preferred, but things not done well does not mean the end of the world.

Knowledge in A’-N’ thinking exists in different settings and knowers think in different ways. Thus, thinking is in terms of several legitimate interpretations and several sets of values are legitimate, depending on the thinker and his/her conditions of and for existence.

The world is seen kaleidoscopically with different views demanding different attention. A’-N’ thinking is in terms of the systemic whole and thought is about the different wholes in different ways. Thought strives to ascertain which way of thinking or which combination of ways fits the extant set of conditions.

Thinking is in terms of what is best for the survival of life, my life, their lives, and all life, but not compulsively; and what is best for me or thee does not have to be best for she or them. My way does not have to be yours, nor yours mine, yet I have very strong convictions about what is my way, but never such about yours.

They think in terms of authority being centred in the person in terms of his/her capacity to act in this or that situation. It is not derived from age, status, blood, etc. It is situational. It must be earned and it must be given over to the superior competence of another. Thinks in terms of competence, not trappings.

Thought is of being there to help and helping if helping is desired, but not helping to straighten out, to shape up, to gain power or control over.

Sees life in terms of life continuing hereafter, not in terms of my life continuing in a hereafter**. Accepts and lives with the fact of differences and that one is relating to people who are different. Shows readiness to live with differences.

Accepts that life is an up-and-down journey from problem to solution, with no mean point ever to be found.

Spawns a variable management form wherein managed and managing change according to the fit between problem and competencies*** to deal with problems.

Notes by Chris Cowan…..
*The X, Y, and Z were what he called “the activating, supporting and elaborating systems in the brain.” As to the “uncommitted cells,” might we call them synaptic links or neuronal clusters or regions or some such and get away with it better? I’ve always winced a little when reading his neurology stuff only because it needs updating more than anything else. I suspect some goes back to the “we only use 10% of our brains” kind of stuff before more interconnections were found, and the belief that the bicameral mind was two separate houses.

**The line I kept hearing him use was that G-T rarely thinks or bothers about religion unless it is of interest to those they’re dealing with – neither a matter of certainty nor concern. What you won’t find in G-T is the abiding focus on an afterlife, salvation, heaven/hell, personal legacy, or coming to peace with spirits – God, goddess, or Gaia – that you will with F-S and certainly D-Q. (As to H-U, we don’t yet know.) There probably wouldn’t be the need to create a godlike self-sufficient self, thereby denying religion as an outside authority – that’s at E-R – though a curiosity would make sense. G-T’s religiousness was lower than both F-S and D-Q. ‘Atheistic’ suggests a degree of surety and positional commitment that is lacking. I’d wager more toward D-Q, just like ‘secular humanism’ is a fit for E-R. If anything, ‘agnostic’ might work, but even that’s a generalisation. Safer to say religion/spirituality is just not a big deal since they generally don’t think much about it, and when they do, it’s in context related to relevance to others more than themselves.

***It would be nice to find a good operational definition of ‘competence’ besides the dictionary ones. Most of the incidents of usage suggest ability to do the work at hand, to behave in ways that fit the situation, to do those things which address existential problems. Then there are degrees of competence. In this case, I believe he is suggesting that the most knowing, the most capable, the most competent steers decisions, rather than relying on rank, status, ego, etc. The more ‘competent’ drives. Thus, too, the privileges of position power or social recognition are not necessarily very important, whereas the person’s ability to do what is to be done and to be able to freely contribute what ‘needs to be known in the situation matters greatly.

It’s the most competent who is in charge, if the best model is a leadered one. Sometimes G-T will rely on teams and consensus; sometimes an authoritarian barking orders. It’s a matter of assessing the existential problems, the capacities of the people, and then choosing the approach of best fit to do what is to be done. So there might be ‘someone in charge’ and it also might rotate among several someones as the knowledge/experience/insight varies, or there might be nobody in charge, per se – like an affinity group!

G-T should want to work where their competencies are of use and will ‘work’ when there is a match between their interests and the work to be done, sometimes putting up with less than ideal conditions to do so.


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