Even though Dr. Graves’ original research is specific to mature adults, it is still useful to look at how the systems play out in the maturation of children.


Age Range



first few weeks of life complete dependence on others for sustenance and existence. L1 may be best seen while the unborn child is still in the womb. As soon as family connections begin to form, L2 is already emerging.


from a few weeks to as much as 5 or six years, depending on environment complete identification with the family unit. Parents are all knowing and all powerful. Games are non-competitive , such as ring-around-the-rosey and jump rope. (Notice how T-ball is played by very small children as opposed to competitive little league when they cross to L3 and the even more abstract mature baseball with its many rules and exceptions at L4.) Stories teach how to survive the perils of the mysterious outside world. Fantasy and magic are as important as reality.


from as early as 1.5 years to as late as adolescence (beyond in some cultures) Radical independence and competitiveness. Strong ego driven possessiveness. Schoolyard bullies are L3. Early competitive athletes are L3. They first form cliques with leaders and followers. Collection of “trophies” and booty in play. They goal may be to outwit their opponent. Games will become rich with complex strategy, but relatively few rules, like checkers, foot races, marbles, dodge ball, soccer, mother-may-I, and Simon Says.


from as early as 6 or 7, through puberty (and into adulthood) Strong affiliation with the rules of the society and the laws of god or some other religious structure. Will tend to condemn those who break the rules, regardless of the offenders age or circumstance. Love for games with complex rules and / or strategies (chess, Mah Jongg, bridge, war games, complex sports, cooking, or building…) There will be rules for eating. Rules for getting dressed. Rules for school and homework. They should never be allowed to learn to drive until they hit L4 because of the complexities and abstractions involved.


from as early as puberty, into adulthood Still competitive, but the most worthy opponent is the self (or the machine), and the best rewards include: winning, material gain, and winning. Games played on a computer will want “cheats” available so the win is faster. This philosophy may also move into schoolwork. High school and college age students were at L4 until the late 1970’s. Since then, more of that same age group has been at L5, which would explain the rise in cheating, since L4 is getting fairly short shrift. Attention shifts to making contacts over making friends, and using time for profit over fun. Games of extreme challenge become more important, whether the challenge is physical or mental.

ARCHITECTURAL INDICATORS OF CHANGE According to Joseph Campbell, historically, we have constructed buildings which architecturally illustrate our highest priorities and values. In the beginning, our houses were the tallest man-made structures. Then religion built temples and cathedrals. Armies built memorials and monuments. Politics built castles and halls of government. Now, we’ve built skyscrapers in service to materialism, consumerism, and capitalism. Look for the tallest buildings on the horizon to see where the people reside.

One of the things which keeps us from moving into one of these systems and staying there is connected to Graves’ original observation about emergence. When we become dissatisfied with the effectiveness of our current dominant system in dealing with the world around us, whether by “evolution or revolution,” we go on in search of a more effective way to cope. We are constantly in a mode of discovery, adaptation, or change. What that means is that whether our own internal human need for change compels us through the map (evolution), or whether our external situation becomes so immediately complex that it propels us through (revolution) – the net result is the same: growth, change and development.

It also means that we must be sufficiently motivated to leave the comfort and familiarity of our current system for uncharted territory. This is the same kind if dissatisfaction that our American forefathers felt for their mother countries – and it produced in them a kind of resolve that made it reasonable to risk life and limb to cross an ocean, a continent, and all kinds of unpredictable weather and geography – just to get away from the source of their dissatisfaction. That kind of dissatisfaction means that the system we are leaving becomes the most unappealing, disappointing, impotent, and even repulsive way any human could choose to live.

Wyatt Woodsmall says that anyone not where we are (on the Graves map) appears to us to be either criminal or insane. I think it goes even farther than that. Anyone not where we are appears criminal, insane, sinful, stupid, useless, or weak. – and that’s probably exactly the way we seem to them. Most of us have a natural tendency to believe that everyone else is really just like us, but that some of them are doing it very badly. This makes calling them idiots a much easier logical step. In fact, anytime you hear yourself or anyone else using one of those words, it’s probably a good idea to immediately begin looking for the Graves mis-match.

The build up of energy necessary to make the move from L3 to L4, from L4 to L5, or from L5 to L6 (or any of the moves to come) is overwhelming. Often it means leaving the values of our parents or our culture behind. And it is important to remember that these are not changes toward a simpler way of life. Each of these changes is an order of magnitude shift upward in complexity.

How do you spot a change as it is happening? It becomes easier, once you know the map. It also becomes easier once you get a feel for the kinds of things we all say to ourselves to help create – or give voice to – that buildup of energy just before the move occurs.

In the odd systems, we tend to look around at what we have acquired and what we have accomplished (survival of the physical world at L1; competitive and physical dominance of the physical world at L3, with all its booty, trophies, and monuments; management and acquisition of the physical world at L5, with all its prestige, position, possessions and influence…) and say, “Is that all there is? There must be more to life than this….”(And there is.)

In the even systems, we look around at the security of our tribe or our nice safe and orderly society and we say, “Yes, that’s wonderful, but – what in it for me? There must be more to life than this….” (And there is.)

Author Tony Schwartz appeared on Tom Snyder’s Late Late Show on CBS in the spring of 1995 to publicize his book, What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America. He talked about having written Donald Trump’s autobiography a few years earlier, and about having reached a pinnacle of sorts in his chosen field. He was living in a plush apartment in New York. He was rubbing shoulders with all the best and most influential people. He had everything he’d ever wanted. According to Schwartz, however, he reached a point where he “woke up” and heard a question coming out of his mouth: “Is that it? That’s all there is?” According to his book, the question was more like, “Why did the success that he’d fought for so long suddenly feel so empty?” That question propelled him out of his snug L5 existence in search of L6 – and his first glimpses of L7.

While the natural progression of this model is to move forward, it is true and observable in societies, organizations, and individuals that we sometimes choose to move backwards. Why would we make a choice that puts us in a dominant system which we previously left behind because it was inadequate to deal with the complexities of the world around us?

One reason is to find shelter and refuge from hectic and stressful experiences. When we’re under stress, a previous system will always offer a familiar and comfortable rest stop. Life in that earlier system was a more simple life – easier in many ways – and by definition, an order of magnitude less complex. A move to an earlier system can be as brief as a few hours, or it can be a semi-permanent move, taking years to change direction again.

The most obvious of these moves backwards is what happens when catastrophe occurs, whether it is a personal disaster which leaves the individual seriously injured or disabled; or a natural disaster or war which throws an entire culture off its normal developmental track. But sometimes the move backwards is a move of choice. Take the example of an individual who has jumped into L5 with both feet and found repeated failure in both business and personal relationships. If the L5 failure is daunting enough, that person might retreat to the relative safety of L4, where there is stability and security in the laws and norms of an orderly society. It is much easier to live within the rules of L4 with its hope of eternal reward or recognition, than to venture out on your own in the entrepreneurial and rat-race free-for-all of L5.

On a more global scale, watching the former Soviet Union struggle with its L5 capitalism and freedoms is often seasoned with momentary retreats and nostalgic longing for the good old days when the state took care of everything. As bad as the lines for bread and toilet paper may have been, the competitive marketplace of L5 may be more frightening. As often as we hear of our Russian neighbors thinking out loud of their old ways, we see just as many wearing their L5 bravely and forging ahead into a new society and new ways of living. It’s important to remember that any system change is as difficult for a culture as it is for an individual, and it is not unusual to see false starts and temporary retreats from such dramatic change.

Another possible reason for moving backwards is pressure (subtle or not) from peers, friends, and family. It’s very difficult to make any change alone, regardless of whether you are going from an odd level to an even, or from an even level to an odd – though even to odd is slightly easier since the impulse to strike out on our own and express ourselves will sometimes carry us for a while. Even in an odd-numbered system, however, we long for others. As humans, it is our nature to depend on contact and to search for understanding and acknowledgment – even when we are being strikingly independent. As a result, a total absence of system-peers can leave us isolated, even when we are in a crowd. An existence without system-peers may also leave us feeling as though there is no one who really understands us.

As if that weren’t bad enough, it is sometimes our closest friends and family who take it upon themselves to remind us that that we are not like them any more. Remember Wyatt Woodsmall’s observation that anyone not where we are on this model appears criminal or insane. If you are the only L5 in a family of L4’s, you can be sure that they see you as the criminal or insane. Or sinful, stupid, useless, or weak. An L5 in a house of L3 would be an even more radical difference and the L5 would probably be banished as the black sheep of the family.

While it is possible to maintain relationship where there is system difference, it takes work. This is especially true in marriage. A lot of what we, in the modern world, have called “growing apart” is really just a situation where one in the relationship has changed systems and the other hasn’t. In a marriage, there may be pressure from both directions – both on the one who has changed to come back to the system left behind, an on the one who did not change to “catch up.”
When the family involved is more than a husband and wife alone – whether it’s an extended family, or a tribe or “gang” of friends – when there is an established group with expectations, the pressure to return to old ways can be overwhelming. Continued pressure can result in a move backward, or it may just result in a move away from the source of the pressure. A family or tribe which cannot live with a criminal or insane system renegade may drive that person to go in search of another family – one which accepts and understands their new way of dealing with the world.

Furthermore, the emergence of repressions at the end of a stage brings a flood of neglected attitudes and data from earlier levels, likely to sweep one back temporarily toward those levels. This regression, however, helps to integrate the forgotten affects and information, so that it can form a firmer foundation for the next level,

In order to gain enough momentum to propel yourself into a new and uncharted existence, you must first build up sufficient evidence that the current system is ineffective against the level of complexity around you. This means that the system left behind must be seen as impotent, criminal, insane, sinful, stupid, useless, and weak. And it will, at least for a while, be seen as the most criminal and insane of all possible existences and the biggest waste of time in the universe. In its most extreme form, this departure energy will generate a kind of “system amnesia,” where all memory of ever having been motivated by that system is hidden or completely obliterated.

During that period of amnesia, the only qualities of a system that can be seen are the negative ones. All the positive learnings and experiences disappear. All the historical examples of success by the offending system appear murky and suspect, as do our closest friends who cling to that faulty existence. While this proximity generates negative feelings, distance generates nostalgia. It is our destiny to separate from the preceding system with the same vigor that a teenager experiences when separating from his parent(s) for the first time.

Nothing appears more distressing (or disgusting) to a newly minted L5 than the rigidity and holier-than-thou righteousness of L4. Nothing causes more worry for the orderly and proper L4’s than the chaos, short-sightedness, violence, and unbridled revelry of L3. Nothing is weaker and more revolting to an aggressive L3 than the interdependence and naive trust of L2. In that same tradition, nothing is more repulsive to L6 than the self centered-ness, extravagance, and greed of L5.

We all assume everyone else is just like us. Except some of them are doing it very badly.

Anyone not where we are, systemically, is criminal, insane, sinful, stupid, useless, or weak.

While this is fairly easy to recognize on an individual, one-on-one basis, it also applies at the macro level. Globally, no error is as dangerous as assuming that other nations, other peoples, other cultures – have the same motivations that we do. We recognize that their problems of existence are different from ours. We recognize that their coping methods and mechanisms are different from our own. Yet we often make the costly error of assuming that deep down, they want the same things we do.

Whoever “we” are, and wherever on the map “we” are – the driving force for a capitalist L5 society is far different than the motivating force for an emerging L3 and its armies. An “enlightened” L6 neo-socialist government has little motivationally in common with its L4 military-bureaucracy cousins. The currency may travel through the same banks. The grain may be ground into the same flour. The weapons may shoot the same bullets.

But the reasons are different.

To assume that every nation that opposes the greed and gluttony of capitalism gone wild are in some way allies, working toward a new world order, is an error beyond measure. Systems may use each other toward a superficially common end, but this should never be mistaken for alliance. L3 does not ally itself – it only uses. That is equally true for L4, L5, and L6. On a grand political and economic scale, and even on a personal and individual scale – such attempts at alliance are nothing more than masks. To reform or eliminate the criminal. To cure or secure the insane. To convert or damn the sinful. To educate or enslave the stupid. To train or inter the useless. To strengthen or conquer the weak.

Not only do we believe they are all like us and simply need our help to do a better job of it, deep down, we know that everyone should be like us. And this system arrogance and elitism is present at every level.

While L5 may be the dominant global force, much energy and thought is being spent on how the next move forward will occur. – And it is important that we know the shift is out there, lying dormant, waiting for life conditions to surpass L5’s capacity to manage. But it is also important to remember that it is just as possible that those life conditions will send the world reeling backwards. Into L4. Or L3. To predict an idealistic L6 society is an interesting exercise, and to assume it is a sure bet – is catastrophic.


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