Intro To Graves/Jung Model


What we are looking at is a model to explain how we got where we are today; exactly where we are right now, and where we are likely to go next. In other words, we are looking for the pattern in the scrying glass. It is a map on which we progress. The “thresholds” are those liminal places where we are on the verge — the cusp — the very lip of the teacup, poised to tip into another realm outside our current experience, or tumble into the tea with a splash!

This map explains us. As a result, it explains how we are motivated, stimulated, and understood by our peers, friends, employees, families, and co-workers.

What is presented here is as brief as I can manage with any hope of getting the idea across. I believe it is impossible to simplify this model beyond a certain point without losing its full meaning and scope. – So I won’t.


Let me begin by saying that there has already been a great deal of research, discussion, and application of the ideas presented in the developmental model constructed by Dr. Clare Graves. In his lifetime, he published on this material only three times, always concerned that his work not be presented until it was complete . While his work lasted from the mid 1940’s until his death in the 1980’s, significant additions to his research and to other, similar work has occurred in the last ten years.


Problems with Naming Levels and Talking About Development
Inherent within any discussion of development is its own most treacherous pitfall. Development implies intentionally moving from one status quo to a new and unexplored status quo. In order to make this move, the subject must first become dissatisfied with where they are now – and be so dissatisfied that they are willing to leave the comfortable, familiar, and the known behind to venture into the unknown.


While this dissatisfaction may eventually move to appreciation, we are usually extremely critical of where we have recently been in developmental terms. No one is more critical of smoking than recent ex-smokers. No one is more critical of any level of development than those who just moved on to the next level.

The very concept of “levels” implies a hierarchical structure. It implies that a level is by definition better, higher, bigger, more comprehensive, or just plain superior to all those levels that came before.

This is no more true of development than it is of an elevator. In the same way the elevator services all floors equally, so does an accurate model describe all floors equally. You can’t build a ten story department store that skips the seventh floor – even if you don’t personally have any use for the sporting goods sold on the seventh floor. Come the day when you need a tennis racket for your nephew, you’ll appreciate that the elevator stops at the seventh floor.

And yet, there is a sort of hierarchy implied in the idea of development. Even if the structure is the same from one level to the next, the view is different. But the hierarchy really is a structural one, and not a hierarchy of better than or worse than, or inferior and superior power.

Let’s talk about our department store elevator just a little more. In Gravesean terms, each move through this developmental model is a move to higher complexity. Life conditions are more complicated. Perception of the world around us is more complicated. Problems are more complicated and therefore, their solutions must be more complex to meet the task.

We cannot resolve the problems of our existence at the same level of thinking that created them.

– Albert Einstein

So however different and broader the view might be, it is at its heart a more complex view. The scope may be bigger, but there are more details to take in. It could be more colorful and interesting to look at – but there will be more people to deal with, more events to keep track of, and more mysteries to solve. Moving on never takes you to a more simple and less complicated life. Only moving backwards takes you there – and even that is an illusion. Moving backwards temporarily may give you room to breath and a place to let your guard down a bit, but sooner or later, whether by evolution or revolution, we can’t seem to prevent our own progress.

Naming Systems Already in Use – Why Reinvent the Wheel?
With this inherent difficulty in mind, consider that between those who have written about this model and similar models, there are already at least five sets of names for the different developmental levels. In fact, Mike Armour usually calls them “thinking systems” rather than levels, but has recently begun looking for another way to talk about it because “thinking” implies that this is somehow a cognitive activity rather than an affective one. Other possibilities? How about “realms of existence”, or “life themes”? Or maybe “Stages of Development?”

No matter how you cut this, you’re going to hit somebody’s prejudice against classifying people, or someone else’s resentment when they feel they’ve been labeled INFERIOR because they seem to exist primarily at one level instead of the next.

So I’ll start with the absolute bottom line:

A healthy world includes, allows, encourages, embraces, and even treasures every level of development, up to and including the highest level it has seen and experienced. It will not function to full potential, in a way that is best for all concerned, or even safely unless all the available levels are there and running in a healthy and complete way.

My standard notation, and the one I use throughout this document is a simple L1, L2, L3, and so on. I may occasionally talk about System 6, or Level 4.

When Graves talked about the different systems, he used a two letter notation. The lettering system is no puzzle; the first set of letters started at the beginning of the alphabet: A, B, C and so on; and the second set of letters started at the middle of the alphabet: N, O, P and so on. He arranged these letter pairs on what he called “the emergent, cyclical, double-helix model,” which looked very much like the DNA double helix.

The first letter represents the “Problems of Existence,” while the second represents “Coping Means.”

This unique double helix serves one important function in that it masterfully illustrates a key concept: emergence. The word itself presupposes that each of these emerging systems already exists, but is somehow lying dormant (also Jung’s presupposition about his archetypes) . In Graves’ model, a new set of “Coping Tools” (the second letter in the pair) emerges only when the Problems of Existence (the first letter in the pair) become so complex that the current coping system – can’t cope. Similarly, more complex problems of existence can’t help but emerge from more complex coping mechanisms. It’s an endless, cyclical, emergent model of our development. The present essay explores the theory that the mechanism for change of level is the emergence of the repressed, often precipitated by the existential problems that Graves mentions, but not inevitably so. Publication of this Graves/Jung theory opens the possibility that people can choose to change levels (rather than being driven to this to escape some crisis).

We won’t be using Graves’ letter pairs except as an occasional reference, but if it ever comes up over the breakfast table, now you know: AN = L1, BO = L2, CP = L3, DQ = L4, ER = L5, FS = L6, GT = L7, and HU = L8

Chris Cowan came up with a less cumbersome way of labeling which is an especially useful learning tool. It goes like this:

L1-Beige L2-Purple
L3-Red L4-Blue
L5-Orange L6-Green
L7-Yellow L8-Turquoise

What you should notice first is that all the odd numbers are in warm tones, while all the even numbers are in cool tones. There’s a reason for this that we’ll talk about in a few pages.

Cowan offers this mnemonic device for the color coding:

L1-Beige AN = savannah grasslands
L2-Purple BO = the royal color of tribal chiefs and monarchs
L3-Red CP = hot blooded emotions and the “fire in your eyes”
L4-Blue DQ = the sky, the heavens, and the “true blue” believer
L5-Orange ER = radiating energy of steel in an industrial furnace
L6-Green FS = green politics, forests, and ecological consciousness
L7-Yellow GT = solar power and alternative technologies
L8-Turquoise HU = the color of the oceans and Earth as viewed from space

There is a history among almost everyone who knows this model to try to reduce each level into a one or two-word label. As far as I can tell, there is no gain from this, and it oversimplifies something which has little room for over simplification.



3 thoughts on “Intro To Graves/Jung Model

  1. i need some help on this. i’m in an “intro to fiction” class and i am wondering how this system relates to english at all. i feel like i’m taking a psychology course. Our paper was to relate the system to a work of fiction. just a little explanation would help me out. thanks!

    • If you are taking a literature class — then you are studying what an author has written — a person. This model looks at motivation and the way we express ourselves, that is, at how we behave, believe, communicate, and understand each other. Each author writes from a particular level on the model.

      The author writes about people behaving and believing and understanding their world through both the character’s level-filters, and the author’s level-filters.

      You, in turn, read and interpret what the author has written through your own level-filters.

      It takes a great deal of discipline and understanding to be able to see the literature and it’s meaning while parsing out those various filters. Would a character have behaved, chosen, or acted differently if he or she saw the world through a different Graves Level understanding? Would the author have written the story differently if…? Would you understand more or less about what the author was saying if you were living predominantly at a different level?

      Or would the story you are reading even be important to someone reading it from a different level?

      All literature — all art, in fact — is about human choices, behavior, beliefs, thoughts, ideas etc. and therefore is, at its core about human psychology. Art is about the mind — communicating what is in one mind to the minds of others. Why else do writers write, or musicians play/sing, or artists draw and paint but to put what they are thinking/feeling/doing out there for others to understand?

      The truth is, you are not really taking an “English” class — you are taking a literature class. And literary criticism (which is what writing a paper about any literature actually is) is the process of trying to understand.

  2. Pingback: TENSE | 7 BY THE SEA

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