We all know that children develop through stages—such as infant, toddler, adolescent, teenager—where how they think and their ability to handle more complex issues improves. But few people are aware that adults also are capable of moving through higher and still higher stages of development. While virtually all children pass through these stages pretty much automatically, not all adults do. Many get stuck along the way.
In recent years scientists have discovered that the brain is plastic and is capable of change and development until the day we die. Three major stages of adult development have been identified by researchers, some of whom have used different names for essentially the same stages:
Three adult stages of development
- Pre-conventional, pre-operational (preop), egocentric
- Conventional, conventional operational (conop), ethnocentric
- Post-conventional, formal operational (formop), world centric
A fourth stage, characteristic of less than one percent of the adult population in Western countries, is a highly developed spiritual stage that has been called transcendent, integral, unitive, or cosmic perspective.
Although your behavior and feelings are significantly affected by beliefs at each stage, your level of development also significantly affects your life in a multitude of ways. Each level has a different way of knowing, a unique worldview, and a distinct way of making meaning.
And just as one childhood stage is not inherently “better” than another—teenagers are not inherently “better” than adolescents; they are only better able to deal with more complex issues—the same is true of the adult stages.
Because so much of the way we perceive and interact with reality is a function of the stage of development we are at, understanding the different stages enables us to understand others and ourselves much better. As you start to become aware of the various stages, other people’s incomprehensible behavior will start making sense.
The differences between the three stages
Here are several excerpts from “Unfolding Perspectives,” an excellent article by Bill Harris of Holosync that describes some aspects of several stages of development. (To read the entire article, go to http://mortylefkoe-podcast.s3.amazonaws.com/Unfolding_Perspectives_2012-10-17.pdf)
From “me” to “us”
“The shift from preop to conop … involves moving from ‘it’s about me’ to ‘it’s about us.’ In making this shift, the child exchanges his previous immersion in ‘me’
for the collective security of the group. The group is organized around the group’s idea of what is important, what their truth is (‘our myth’)…. At this stage there is little or no ambiguity. Life is about this or that, about concrete objects and concrete procedures (hence the name concrete operations). Things are either black or white, this or that, with no shades of gray. What is true is visible. There are no internal, abstract ideas or principles yet, just concrete objects and concrete ways to manipulate them to achieve outcomes. …
“To move into this stage