I’m guessing you want to do a Spiral Dynamics Test because you’ve learned about the theory and now want to see which stage you are at.
This is a legitimate goal. It’s hugely rewarding to study this theory and understand its nuances, then see the levels in yourself and others. It’s a great tool for self-knowledge: it can bring clarity and order to our lives, help us foresee what’s next for us, and encourage us to start building up resources for the journey.
That said, I’ve found that it’s tempting to oversimplify the theory and try to use it as a system for labelling or pigeonholing yourself and others. Before you check out this Spiral Dynamics test, here are some key insights to keep in mind.
Spiral Dynamics Test: Caveats
This is where I spoil at the party, or at least bring a sober and realistic view to this topic.
Having spent years studying developmental psychology, writing about it, and applying it to my own life, I’ve come to realise that the question “which level am I at?” is really the wrong question. In fact, it can be damaging to ask this.
First, Spiral Dynamics is doesn’t suggesting we embody one level. In the original book, it says that at any given time we embody at least three stages in a proportion of 25%-50%-25%. But even this is a rule of thumb.
Being human is not about embodying one level and trying to run up the ladder as quickly as possible. We embody all levels. When we say a person or society is “at” certain stages, this is a very gross conclusion. It’s a rule of thumb, it’s shorthand: the unstable surface layer that veils a sea of complexity.
Susanne Cook-Greuter points out we always have at least three stages active in us, and that those of us who embody higher levels have a much greater reperotire, exhibiting traits from many more stages than those centred at lower levels.
Besides, so often people want a simple test for the wrong reasons. They want to know which level they’re at so they can then plot their moves up the ladder. Or they do it to bolster their self-esteem or to feel superior to other, “less evolved” humans. I’m not holier-than-thou – I’ve fallen into this trap. The theory offers us remarkable incentive to believe we’re higher than others, and doing a test is the epitome of that attitude.
We can quickly and judgementally file others under Blue, Orange, or Green, and pit ourselves at Yellow and Turquoise. Easy peasy. “Look at all the unevolved people out there. I’m better than them, and I have this cool new theory and test to prove it.” For a while I fell into this trap. Yes, the desire to be at higher levels is incredibly self-deceptive.
What’s The Right Question? How Do We Test Ourselves?
Instead of asking which Spiral Dynamics level we’re “at” and doing a test to find out, we might ask whether we healthily embody each level and recognise its importance to us. That’s exactly what we’ll do in this test. As Wilber says, transcend and include – not transcend and exclude.
It’s hard to say you should “be” at any of these stages. It all depends on circumstances. Life is a matrix of situations and circumstances requiring a wide repertoire of responses.
All stages brings their own unique capacities to the table, and failing to healthily integrate them can bring remarkable dysfunction. Sometimes we need outright Red aggression and domination. Other times, Blue conformity is the order of the day. All of these systems are latent within us, waiting to be expressed.
Besides, it’s not even up to us much of the time. Forces in the exterior are always tugging and influencing us, no matter how wise and independent we consider ourselves.
It’s easy to see this is humanitarian crises like famine – victims are unwittingly flung into a predominantly Beige mode of functioning, in which they’re struggling to stay alive day to day. Read about Communist Russia and China to see the mindblowing things that people will do just to remain alive when facing starvation.
It’s not that these people were primitive and underdeveloped – it’s that the environment (and irreparably flawed production systems) forced them down into an inhumane, animal-like state.
Now, despite all my reservations, it’s also vital we ask ourselves “which stages we’re at”, and doing a test can be instructive. But with nuance – this is a multidimensional question. We should ask the following questions.
“which stages do I feel most identified with?”
“which can I call on when I need to, even if I don’t fully identify with them?”
“which stages do I find difficult to embody?”
“which stages have I yet to embody?”
Spiral Dynamics Test – Test Yourself
In line with what I said above, let’s look at each of the Spiral Dynamics stages in turn and test for its presence. We’ll ask how to healthily embody each one, how to know when we’re unhealthily fixated to them, along with the periods when each usually dominates, and when we should ideally move on to download higher levels.
Spiral Dynamics Test: Beige
Healthy Embodiment: meet basic needs adequately, fend for oneself, sense of basic trust, pre-verbal bodily instincts
Unhealthy Fixation: food disorders, dysfunctions in parental relationships, inability to care for one’s self
When Is It Necessary? old age, babies, humanitarian crises, small hunter-gatherer bands, prehistoric humanity
When Should We Transcend Beige Dominance? in developed countries, two years old to later life
Spiral Dynamics Test: Purple
Healthy Embodiment: sense of control over environment, sense of mystery and magic to life, connection to ancestry and heritage, pre-verbal mental knowing
Unhealthy Fixation: magical explanations for everything, unwilling/unable to consider objective evidence, magical totems and rituals, excessive superstition
When Is It Necessary? young children, horticultural tribes, old age
When Should We Transcend Its Dominance? early childhood
Spiral Dynamics Test: Red
Healthy Embodiment: able to express anger and raw emotion, healthy narcissism, sense of distinct self
Unhealthy Expression: overtaken by flight-or-fight response in non-threatening situations, no control of emotions and impulses, world viewed as threatening and hostile, narcissism, unable to function in civil society
When Is It Necessary? young childhood, dog-eat-dog situations, developing countries, rough neighbourhoods, criminals, tyrants
When Should We Transcend Its Dominance? early teens, civilised society
Check out My Spiral Dynamics Series For Detailed Articles On All These Stages
Stages Test: Blue
Healthy Embodiment: able to abide laws and rules; sense of belonging to community, society and country; obligation to be a responsible citizen;
Unhealthy Expression: constant literal, rule-based interpretations (recent story of female chess player deported from Iran for refusing head scarf); racism; homophobia; dependence on leaders and right authority; medieval values and worldviews; lack of independence; group bias; closed to logic, reason and evidence
When Is It Necessary? civil societies, youth, the professional world, developing countries
When Should We Transcend Its Dominance? late teens; modern, developed, democratic societies with individual freedom
Spiral Dynamics Test: Orange
Healthy Embodiment: individual rights, freedom and enterprise; goal-setting; time lines; rationality; practicality; getting shit done; getting ahead in life; achiever mentality
Unhealthy Expression: excessive reliance on logic and reason; over-reliance on self; white-collar crime; obsession with the good life and status; lack of empathy with non-achievers; profit over ethics
When Is It Necessary? democratic societies; meritocratic situations; personal development; dog-eat-dog business
When Should We Transcend It? in democratic societies, we’re reaching the point where Orange dominance is no longer healthy. Ideally, we should all begin transcending it. In developing countries, it’s yet to dominate.
Stages Test: Green
Healthy Embodiment: sensitivity to minority groups, awareness of our footprint; connection to inner life; desire to be rather than do; diminshing of anger, manipulation; return to healthier, natural ways of being; explore new truths; attunement to human evil and injustice; go beyond conventionality
Unhealthy Expression: oversensitivity; overly feminine; doormattery; idealising past societites; suspicion of business and money; oppression in the name of freedom; rigidly non-hierarchical; nihilistic; over idealistic and impractical; artificial equating and relativising
When Is It Necessary? now, developing countries, once limits of industrial societies with individual freedom become apart
When Should We Transcend It? when we exhaust Green and it becomes limiting
Spiral Dynamics Yellow Test
Healthy embodiment: realistic individuality; recovery of masculine traits; deeper trust in life and evolution; see evolution in self and humanity; curiosity and empathy for other stages; contribute rather than leech; healthy mix of idealism and practicality; rehabilitates hierarchies; focus on competence
Unhealthy Expression: justify dysfunctional behaviour with knowledge of stages; overtrusting in evolution leading to inaction; over-reliance on mind and knowledge; analysis paralysis
When Is It Necessary? management, cosmopolitan societies, thought leaders, sustainability
Stages Test: Turquoise
Healthy Embodiment: service to others; see deep wisdom of life; heal and make whole; deep compassion; integrate knowledge with intuition; visceral embodiment of earlier levels
When Is It Necessary? thought leaders, spiritual leaders, meditation and yoga organisations
Spiral Dynamics Test: Conclusion
As you’ve seen, using Spiral Dynamics to understand ourselves is much more complex and nuanced than we’d like. But I find there is richness and depth in this nuance. Isn’t it both humbling and exciting to realise that all these values, capacities and worldviews are alive inside you, waiting to be expressed?
The main lesson is that we’re not one dimensional: we’re multi-dimensional, multi-coloured beings. Let’s revive, inhabit and use the earlier levels and start feeling our way into the higher levels, integrating them all into the dance of our identity.
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