Recently, I have had a couple of experiences that have brought the increasing polarization within the United States to my attention–again–and the need to heal the polarization.

Last month I came under attack on my Facebook professional page from an organized hate group of volatile medical doctors who demonstrated little concern for actual facts or science. Seems an oxymoron, right? The very same week, I realized that the TED X talk I was set to deliver shortly was being heavily censored by the hosting committee. These two events got me thinking a lot about our current culture, its divides, and how this relates to our overall health and development as a society.

You see, my TED X talk was on this very subject. Using a well-researched set of adult developmental levels, I was demonstrating how the challenges we face in life, including disease and illness, are a call to action for developmental evolution. In fact, without these hard life challenges, we cannot evolve. This is also part of the premise Joseph Campbell set forth in his book, A Hero with A Thousand Faces, which Time Magazine called one of the 100 most influential books published since 1923.

I would like to show the 10 stages of Susanne Cook-Greuter’s Developmental Model and take you on a journey that quickly moves through the evolutionary stages of human development from womb to tomb.

Here they are in a nutshell:

  • In the Symbiotic Stage, or infancy, we are dependent on our caregivers. This is a pre-ego state.
  • In the Impulsive Stage, we are just building an ego and are concerned with getting our physical needs met and staying safe.
  • In the Opportunist Stage, we are absorbed with self-protection.
  • In the Diplomat Stage, we are seeking acceptance by conforming to the demands of the culture, religion, or group we identify with.
  • In the Expert Stage, we are efficient and dogmatic and look for recognition for our expertise and uniqueness.
  • In the Achiever Stage, we are what our culture views as a mature adult. We are success and achievement oriented and operate within our cultural norms.
  • In the Individualist Stage, we are beginning to question norms, take a more systems approach to life, and are beginning to include other’s perspectives.
  • In the Strategist Stage, we are becoming even more autonomous and are becoming more complex. We are beginning to focus more on being the best we can be and have a larger picture of life.
  • In the Magician Stage, we now see ourselves as part of a global reality. We are starting to understand that we are not separate from life and the people we share our planet with. We experience ourselves as part of an entire universe.
  • In the Unitive Stage, we are ego aware and see ourselves as creative participants in the ongoing evolutionary journey of humanity. We cherish all beings and are free of judgement.

Here’s where most adults in our culture hang out:

Developmental StagePercentageHuman Characteristics
Diplomat, Expert, Achiever75%Conforming, dogmatic, and achievement oriented.
Individualist, Strategist, Magician12%Systems approach, bigger picture, global awareness.
Unitive< 1%Non-judgmental and participate in forwarding humanity.


And by the way, when polled, most people believe they are in a higher developmental stage than they actually are.

With all that’s happening in the world, you can see that as a species, if we want to continue, we need to be evolving into beings who are creatively and non-judgmentally participating in global survival…the stage that less than 1% of the population currently demonstrates. This is also the stage that is free of hate for others who do not think like you do. It’s a state that is free of judgment. It’s a state of being that builds bridges rather than walls.

Building Bridges Between Us

Based on data recently presented by Matt Motyl (2018), a social psychologist, our country has been progressively polarizing since roughly 1992.  Prior to 1992, a large number of counties in the United States were politically mixed, containing people from a variety of political, spiritual, and social orientations.

Last summer I attended a talk on Shaw Island by Pulitzer Prize/ Emmy Award Winner and retired New York Times reporter and editor, Hedrick Smith. He discussed the many reasons we have gone from being “one America” to “two Americas.” He knit together the political, social, and economic developments that have created significant shifts in American capitalism under the last six presidents. He combined a penetrating look at how corporate and political leaders have helped change the experience of average Americans. My take away was that the reorganization of county voting lines has had one of the biggest impacts of anything being discussed.

I happen to live in a very liberal area within a very liberal state. Most of my friends identify as socially and politically progressive. I also live from a set of progressive values. However, we get into trouble as a civilization when we find ourselves saying, “I can’t believe people actually think this way <insert the opposite of your value system>.”

When you find yourself surrounded by people who always agree with you, you live in a bubble. This feeds the polarization and the risk for hate groups to thrive, both in the cyberworld and in the physical world. Dr. Motyl talks about “moral ecology.” Moral ecology exists on a continuum that moves from the individual to the group. You might recognize that the psychological developmental states I listed earlier do the same thing.

So how do we move from polarization to bridge building between people who fundamentally disagree on what moral values entail? The first step is to notice when you are involved in, contributing to, or supporting group thinking. Group thinking is what allowed Hitler to rise to power and it’s also what allowed him to get away with genocide.

What are your hot buttons? I see volatility and violence surrounding issues of abortion, immunization, holistic health/ “big pharma,” the energy and the environment, religion, race, gender, politics, and so much more. I recently read about an organization called The Open Mind Initiative and was heartened by what I read online. The problem is easy to recognize, but solutions are harder to come by. Open Mind has some great ideas.

What was the censorship I was experiencing through TED X? My coach repeatedly came back to me after I presented script after script saying, “the committee is worried that you are saying that you can just think yourself out of illness.” In spite of changing my script to make SURE it was clear I was not saying that every illness can be cured the same way, be it medication, holistically, or even through mindset, this concern was repeated over and over again. I finally realized this group’s ideology was in complete sync with the pharmaceutical industry’s assertion that “matching a pill with an ill” was the only “science-based” medical path worth talking about. When I finally understood that they wanted me to represent only that line of reasoning, I was able to see why they fundamentally could not understand the idea I was presenting.

What I was saying is that illness, when plugged into the Hero’s Journey, is a call to action to find a mentor, learn new skills, master those skills, and come back in a new developmental state with new wisdom. My patients who have come back from cancer and autoimmune disease have all said the experience was the best thing that ever happened to them. How could this kind of struggle be reviewed as a positive experience? Because when it is survived, the participant is able to witness their own evolution. This is certainly my experience too. I was not saying who the mentors should be (MD, ND, ARNP, psychologist, energy worker, friend, or family member), what the skills were that must be mastered (nutrition, stress reduction, medication regimen, exercise plan), or what the wisdom attained should include. That is all quite individual, based on the developmental state we begin with. Evolution begins from where we are standing.

After careful deliberation, I opted out from delivering this talk from stage this week. After repeatedly trying to bridge the divide without success, I decided my only option was to take a stand against the committee’s thinly veiled censorship. They seemed to be driven by fear and as such resisted ideas that did not match their own…which is not what TED stands for. I then did what Open Mind calls “cultivating intellectual humility” and did not judge them or get angry about their stance. I get it. Unless you actively work the 5 steps Open Mind suggests, walls go up. Just knowing these 5 steps exist and what they are is a great place to start when discussing evolving on the developmental and moral ecology continuum.

The 5 Steps for Building Bridges

Step 1

Talk to people you disagree with.  Discover how talking to people you disagree with can help you make wiser decisions and new discoveries.

Step 2

Cultivate intellectual humility. Learn how cultivating a mindset of humility and open-mindedness can help you achieve academic and personal success.

Step 3

Explore the irrational mind. Learn a little bit of psychology to see the tricks the mind plays on us, making us all prone to be self-righteous, overconfident, and quick to demonize “the other side.”

Step 4

Break free from your moral matrix. Uncover the power of the “moral matrix,” which helps explain where our moral differences come from and why moral or political disagreements can be so difficult.

Step 5

Prepare for constructive disagreement. Learn practical skills to turn the most difficult disagreements into productive conversations.

A Closed System Always Dies

One thing for us all to remember is a closed system always dies. This applies to cellular life, to religious life, and to corporate life. It’s called systems theory. In a nutshell, a cell cannot thrive if it cannot get rid of its garbage and receive nutrients and new information about the environment it exists in. This requires a semi-permeable membrane, precisely the kind of membrane that contains a healthy cell. Cells must be able to communicate with one another. If the cell membrane become impermeable, it dies. This is true of any system. When the system does not evolve to match the growth of the environment it is contained in, it dies. When it doesn’t implement new information and get rid of its garbage, it dies. The 5 Steps listed above are simply a way to keep your membrane semi-permeable. This is the only way evolutionary development is possible from a cellular level to a societal level…which includes the health of our very species.

I am making 2019 the year of “Karma Points” J. I am committed to reaching over divides to talk about points of view that do not match my own. I am committed to making sure I leave positive reviews for anyone who goes out of their way to serve me, the community and the globe. I am not going to spend time talking or thinking negatively about any person, place, experience, or group. I am going to make sure that when I think ahead to the day I die, my life review includes time spent loving and recognizing the God in every being I share this planet with…no matter what their ideology. This seems like a great path to the depolarization of America and the globe.

Happy New Year! I would love to hear from you and your thoughts about ways to heal the divide. Let’s work together to make this country and this world a place that our children and grandchildren want to inherit.

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Dr. Keesha Ewers is a board-certified Functional and Ayurvedic medical practitioner, as well as Doctor of Sexology, host and founder of The Woman’s Vitality Summit, and founder of a new branch of medicine called Functional Sexology. Click here to learn more about her Integrative Medicine Health Coach Certification Program.