“Crux” and “Multiplicity” Discernments

Excerpted from Cultural Maturity: A Guidebook for the Future

Besides challenging us to think more systemically, a systemically in new more dynamic and complete ways, Cultural Maturity’s cognitive reordering also changes the basic categories we use to define truth. Creative Systems Theory “patterning concepts” reflect these basic categories. But any approach that helps us think with any detail within culturally mature territory must at least acknowledge them.

This additional kind of change is as radical in its significance as the more general need to think systemically. We must understand it if we are to lead effectively whether in our personal lives or when making major collective decisions. And certainly we must understand it if we are to successfully craft comprehensive new-truth frameworks that can serve us as we go forward.

Two new kinds of discernment—each systemic in our new, more dynamic and complete sense—are critical to effective culturally mature decision-making. In one sense, each reflects a kind of distinction that we humans have always made. But with Cultural Maturity’s changes, we necessarily engage each kind of discernment in ways that fundamentally alters what it is about. Truth comes to reside in two wholly new conceptual groupings. To keep concepts simple, I will refer to them as the “crux” and “multiplicity” aspects of culturally mature truth.

This fact of new-truth categories can initially seem even more of a stretch to grasp than the basic notion of a more complete kind of systemic perspective. But ultimately it is not that complicated, and for the same reason. When we step over Cultural Maturity’s threshold, these categories are what we find. They come part and parcel with culturally mature perspective’s more encompassing systemic picture. The first new kind of truth is a product of the new ability to at once step back from and more deeply engage the whole of our internal complexity that comes with Integrative Meta-perspective. The second is a product of the analogous new ability to more accurately discern the various aspects of that complexity—to see them without the distorting lenses of projection and mythologizing.

Some historical perspective helps clarify both what our new discernment categories describe and just what is new. In what might appear a related phenomenon, since the beginnings of human understanding we have placed our truths in two worlds. We’ve spoken of this two-part picture in a variety of ways—truth’s essence as opposed to truth’s particulars, inner truth as opposed to worldly truth, spiritual truths as opposed to material truth. At various times in culture’s story we have given one half or the other of this basic juxtaposition greater emphasis. Plato, in contrasting eternal “forms” with their projected shadows on the cave’s wall, gave ultimate credence to the more inner dimensions of truth. Descartes, in contrasting objective and subjective worlds, made an almost opposite claim. But wherever we look, to this point in culture’s story we encounter a related two-part basic division of truth.

But I strongly emphasize that phrase, “to this point.” Culturally mature crux and multiplicity discernments represent wholly new kinds of concepts, new not just in the sense of next chapters in a continuing story, but fundamentally new. Two things change in what before has been a consistent picture. First, again,  each kind of truth loses its parental trappings. Each, in a new sense, must be engaged unadorned. Second, because each now reflects Integrative Meta-perspective’s more encompassing picture, each becomes expressly systemic, and systemic in the new, more dynamic and complete sense we examined in the previous section.

In fact, we already have a simple conceptual tool that can take us a long way toward capturing both new kinds of truth: the box-of-crayons image. We can think of culturally mature crux discernments as what we get when we give primary attention to the perspective of the encompassing box, and culturally mature multiplicity discernments as what the world looks like when we draw on the sensibilities of particular crayons (while not losing the box’s encompassing vantage).


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Once we step over Cultural Maturity’s threshold, culturally mature crux and multiplicity discernments become critical in every part of our lives. They are essential equally to making the most everyday of personal choices and the most consequential of collective determinations. Of particular importance for our inquiry, culturally mature crux and multiplicity distinctions form the necessary foundation for the more formal and detailed kinds of “pattern language” formulations that will become increasingly critical if we are to effectively make our way in times ahead. When we successfully apply culturally mature crux and multiplicity discernments, they make possible both a nuance of distinction and a compactness of conception that is wholly new and that will be increasingly critical.


Truth’s “Crux”

Culturally mature crux discernments are where culturally mature perspective’s responsibility-twice-over task necessarily begins. They are also, when push comes to shove, what we must necessarily come back to in our decision-making processes. They provide the basic compass bearing necessary if future choice is to have direction and coherence.

The need for crux discernments of this newly mature sort comes most obviously from the diminishing power of parental guideposts. Without predefined cultural references telling us what should matter, we have to somehow more directly get at what makes something significant. But, in the same sense that we saw with my more general observations about the new double responsibility that accompanies culturally mature truth, Cultural Maturity’s deeper cognitive changes also necessarily come into play. Without them we are left with little more than post-modern whim.

Here are some examples of the needed deeper, at once more bare-boned and more complex kind of discernment: Effective moral decision-making today involves more than just thinking through more options. It requires getting more directly at what for us makes a choice moral. Similarly, a rewarding life as a man or a woman requires not just a willingness to question past gender dictates, but also a new and deeper relationship to ourselves as gendered beings. Engaging love at all usefully has come to require rethinking assumptions and allowing the possibility of new options, certainly. But it also demands a deeper and more direct appreciation for the needs that love fulfills (companionship, intimate bonds, parental cooperation, and the rest). In a related way, a fulfilling sense of identity requires not just that we challenge past cultural expectation, but also that we bring to bear a more personal and fully embracing relationship to the question of what creates worth. The greater awareness and more immediate contact with our human complexities that accompany Cultural Maturity’s cognitive changes are what, in the end, make such more direct and embracing engagement with what matters possible.

It helps to further clarify what is different from related concepts of times past. Philosophers, theologians, and poets have always sought to get at truth’s crux in the earlier definition I referred to—in the sense of some “essence” or “core” of truth. But culturally mature crux distinctions are not just about essences. And certainly they are not about timeless essences (which in the past has been the implication). They are what we get when we succeed at taking everything that needs to be considered into account—supposed core, supposed periphery, and everything else.

Drawing on the box-of-crayons metaphor, “crux” in the old sense referred to a single crayon of a more inner—aesthetic or spiritual—sort. Culturally mature crux distinctions consider all that we encounter in the concrete world of particulars to be equally essential. Culturally mature crux distinctions challenge us to hold and appreciate the whole box. Once we are over Cultural Maturity’s threshold, the bottom line for our choices necessarily becomes systemic, and systemic in our specifically new, more dynamic and inclusive sense. If we are to decide wisely, we must take into account everything that goes into making our personal choices vital and alive—in ourselves and in the world around us.

This conclusion applies to human choices of every sort. For example, it is as pertinent to the decisions we make together within specific spheres or domains of endeavor (such as government, science, or religion). With any new chapter in culture’s story, primary realms of activity acquire new defining truths. But the diminishing of culture’s past parental influence combined with the need for more multifaceted understanding means that the ways we conceive of various spheres of human activity can, and must, be more consciously embracing—at once more direct and more systemically complete—than how we have thought of them in times past.

We can see this more complex (and in the end also simpler, more stripped down) task implied for the field of medicine with reflections on health care limits. Modern medicine’s bottom-line measure has been to defeat death and disease—essentially at any cost. We’ve seen how this measure, today, has become not just unsustainable, but by itself limited and limiting, and how measures that can work for the future must be of a more encompassing sort. They must somehow acknowledge quality of life along with the fact of life; psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of health and healing in addition to the purely physical; and not just individual health but also larger societal well-being. Health care’s new yardstick must address health itself—in the fullest, most complete sense.

The sphere of education provides a good further example. Education’s future depends not just on us rethinking educational policy, but also on rethinking what education is ultimately about. We tend to take education’s purpose for granted—assume it to be obvious and unchanging. In a sense, it is unchanging—as T.H. White put it in The Once and Future King, the purpose of education has been to “learn how the world wags and what wags it.” But education’s purpose has taken expression in very different ways at various times in culture’s story. In the future, education must manifest that purpose in ways that are both more conscious and more encompassing than at any time previous.

Modern “classroom” education had its origins in providing the universal literacy necessary for democratic governance and the Industrial Revolution. Toward this end, it has served us well. But education able to support and teach culturally mature capacities requires a more complete definition. The essential tasks ahead for our species will necessarily involve learnings that are not just different from what we have known, but also often learnings incompatible with education’s purpose as we have most recently thought of it.

We can draw on moral decision-making’s new demands for illustration. With modern public education, we’ve taken great care to keep moral concerns out of the classroom—carefully preserving the separation of church and state. Yet we can’t escape that any kind of healthy future will require us to confront increasingly complex ethical questions. Later, we will look at the important sense in which concerns of every sort today have become moral/ethical questions.  For future education to serve us, it must make learning to address such questions “core curriculum.”  Effectively addressing the complex challenges before us will require that we recognize a more complete picture of learning and draw on more embracing, bottom-line measures for educational success.

Implied in these examples is a recognition that helps clarity what might have at first seemed contradictory language. I’ve spoken of truth’s “crux” and the box-of-crayons image’s encompassing box as analogous notions. We can think of culturally mature crux discernments in two different ways that at first might seem to be almost opposite to one another. Culturally mature crux discernments are about getting at what matters in the most direct, bare-boned fashion. They are about truth at its simplest. And, at the same time, they are about addressing truth in all its aspects, in a way that affirms truth’s complexity. In fact, we must think about them in both of these ways and, in effect, simultaneously, if our discernments are to reflect the kind of systemic thinking required once we step over Cultural Maturity’s threshold.

We also need to at least acknowledge a further difference if these initial observations are not to cause confusion. It will take later reflections for us to make full sense of this additional difference, but it similarly follows from Cultural Maturity’s cognitive changes: Any culturally mature crux discernment, in addressing a specific concern in our time, also, at least a bit addresses the more encompassing question that our more time-specific concern through history has engaged. This need not be a conscious process, but it can be. Later we will examine how the more overarching perspective that comes with Cultural Maturity’s cognitive changes helps us step back and appreciate the larger story that underlies any particular kind of truth. It also helps us appreciate how today’s new truths incorporate that larger story in a way we have not seen before. In an important sense, culturally mature crux distinctions help us get at what “mattering” in relation to any particular kind of question has always been about.

The developmental analogy—which compares Cultural Maturity with maturity in an individual lifetime—again sheds useful light. Maturity in individual development similarly involves engaging truth’s crux in both of these more encompassing ways—encompassing both in the here-and-now sense and in this more temporal meaning. We most easily recognize this needed new inclusiveness in the present-tense, “we contain multitudes” sense, but always to some degree it also comes into play in terms of what matters for us more ultimately. Wisdom involves better getting our arms around not just significance in the moment, but also significance as it pertains to the whole of our lives. This more encompassing result asks more of us. But it also lets us engage our personal lives with a new and greater fullness and elegance, and with a more embracing and reliable kind of potency.

We can look back to the list of personal crux concerns to see how this more wholly encompassing picture—encompassing both in the immediate and in the more temporal sense—applies to culturally mature-decision making. Getting more directly at what makes a choice moral, today, very much means what is moral specifically in our time. But, at least a bit, determining what is moral also means better appreciating what at any time has made a choice moral. Similarly, while that new and deeper relationship to ourselves as gendered beings requires acknowledging our very particular here-and-now complexities and contradictions, it also, at least to some degree, means reengaging the biological underpinnings of being a man or a woman. In a similar way, while that more direct recognition of the needs that love fulfills refers to what we derive from love in our time, it also means better appreciating the needs love has fulfilled all along, throughout our human history. And in a related manner, finding the more fulfilling sense of identity possible today requires not just bringing to our internal conversation the more multifaceted picture that defines worth in our time, it also means asking in new and deeper ways about what human worth is ultimately about.

More domain-focused reflections provide a further glimpse of how this more temporal sort of systemic engagement comes into play. With the earlier brief look at education, I described how the complex challenge before us requires that we draw on more embracing measures for educational success. Most immediately, “more embracing” refers to the demands of education in our time. But at least a bit, too, it refers to a more temporal kind of completeness. Giving the moral dimension of learning a central place in education is not entirely new. For example, moral decision-making lay at the heart of medieval monastic education. I cannot emphasize too strongly that what I’m referring to here is different, fundamentally, from going back to the education methods of an earlier time. But we very much need to learn how to ask our questions and make our deliberations from a vantage that better appreciates all that goes into making us human.

We also see this more temporal dynamic at least hinted at with my description of health care’s more systemic picture. I described how health care’s new yardstick must address health in the fullest, most complete sense. In the end, that means looking not just at health as we think about it in our time, but at least a bit, considering what health is about more fundamentally. This includes engaging sensibilities that have had a less prominent role in recent times. Note, for example, how, at earlier times in our cultural story, the social and spiritual aspects of health were often, in a more circumscribed sense, considered the core concerns of health and healing.

In the end, engaging our crux truth task—and in a way that incorporates all these aspects—applies not just to ourselves and to specific cultural domains, but also to the broadest of collective decision. No question more defines our time than what measures we as a species must use if we wish to make effective choices. I’ve described how our old ways of thinking about wealth and progress—and “more” in general—can’t serve us going forward. The concept of Cultural Maturity is an attempt to answer this most encompassing new-truth question. Any act or idea consistent with the realization of Cultural Maturity becomes “true” in this now most essential sense. Culturally mature truth is about better addressing what most matters right here and right now. And always a bit, too, it is about stepping back and more fully appreciating what most ultimately matters as a function of being human.

Whatever the concern, whether intimately personal or broadly collective, our time requires increasingly that we confront it at this crux level of significance. In times past, addressing truths in such a stripped-down—yet also more embracing—manner would have seemed if not nonsensical, certainly dangerous. It would have appeared to be an all-too-slippery-slope enterprise that risked the loss of all we had gained as seekers of truth. Today we have no choice—and would not want to have it otherwise. We can effectively take on the multilayered new responsibilities on which the future depends only if we start our actions with crux discernments of this newly complete sort. Such discernments are also key to the new kind of conceptual approaches needed if we are to successfully realize new possibilities. Any “pattern language” framework that is at all complete must have concepts that effectively address this crux truth task.


Truth’s “Multiplicity”

The second needed new kind of discernment stands as a bookend to the first. With it, we shift our attention from truth’s crux to questions of difference and detail, to truth’s multiplicity. We could call this truth’s complexity, but from a mature systemic perspective, crux discernments are just as much about complexity as multiplicity determinations are. Returning to the box-of-crayons imagery, our attention shifts from the box (representing truth’s crux—here with the more encompassing aspects of its two-part definition emphasized) to the multiple hues of the crayons within.

Culturally mature multiplicity discernments are new, and as we examined with the parallel crux truth picture we just looked at, fundamentally so. It is not at all that we haven’t before made observations that differentiated this from that. In a similar way, multiplicity distinctions are represented historically by a grand lineage. But in times past, such distinctions have taken the form either of mythologized opposites (various manifestations of “us” versus “them”) or more detailed, but still cut-and-dried, this-versus-that lists and categories. Effectively addressing the new challenges before us, again, requires more dynamic and complete ways of thinking—here about complexity’s aspects.

The same two basic differences that we encountered with new distinctions of the crux variety apply to what is new when it comes to culturally mature multiplicity discernments. First, culturally mature multiplicity discernments are necessarily made without the benefit of past cultural guideposts. Second, multiplicity distinctions become necessarily of a more consciously systemic sort, and systemic in the now-familiar, newly dynamic and encompassing sense. The result is something fundamentally different from how we’ve divided things up in times past. Culturally mature multiplicity discernments allow us to make distinctions that are more nuanced than in times past, and nuanced in ways that more directly reflect our uniquely human natures. Culturally mature multiplicity discernments also offer a compactness of expression we have not seen previously.

The introductory media example similarly pointed toward the importance of this more detailed kind of discernment. I proposed that “we need ways of thinking that help us recognize pattern in information—that help us discern useful knowledge within information, and beyond this, that can assist us in the wise use of that knowledge.” We’ve also already had a preview of the power of such discernment. The developmental/evolutionary frame on which this inquiry is based reflects this new kind of pattern thinking. The whole of Chapter Seven  will draw on the dynamic and detailed picture of cultural change that such culturally mature pattern thinking makes possible.

For now, we can look to a simple, but in fact quite precise, way to think about multiplicity in this sense: Culturally mature multiplicity distinctions describe how truth, in the end, always exists in a context. Time and place—when an act occurs and the locale or system where it occurs—become ultimately as essential to what makes something true as the content of the act. We could say that culturally mature perspective makes truth relative, but this is explicitly not relativity of the casual “different-strokes-for-different-folks” sort. This sort of relativity is about recognizing that if we want to be precise in our thinking, considerations about all that is happening in relation to our specific challenge can be as important as the more obvious sorts of particulars.

Historically, such contextual subtlety really didn’t need to be our concern. Culturally specific dictates—whether moral codes, assumptions about appropriate institutional forms, or a people’s concept of the divine—provided one-size-fits-all truths. In point of fact, these truths were also time and place specific (specific to their particular time and place in humanity’s story), but our limited capacity to see outside our own time and place, and especially to see importance outside of it, meant that this was not something we could recognize or needed to recognize. In contrast, truth beyond Cultural Maturity’s threshold makes no real sense separate from contextual considerations.

We commonly miss just how relative our perceptual and conceptual worlds can be. They are dramatically so—even at the level of the biological. We evolve not to see, hear, and taste what is true in some absolute sense, but to perceive in the specific ways that will most support our unique approach to survival. The perceptual world of a dog, a bee, a bear, or an amoeba is much different from our own. And while we reflexively assume that our reality is the most sophisticated, if I were lost in the woods with only the scent of my previous steps to guide me home, the perceptual reality of the dog or the bear would provide much more sensitive and useful truth.

We can think of our human contextual relativities as layered. Because we are creatures, such biological relativities always come into play, and not just when our concern is the ways in which we are different from other creatures on the planet. This first layer plays a role, for example, when we ask what factors make men and women different. The “nature” side of the common nature-versus-nurture debate is concerned with this first layer.

Beyond the wholly biological, we find aspects of perceptual and conceptual relativity that are products of learning—the complementary “nurture” side of things. Our immense capacity to adapt, learn, and grow means that to a degree not present with other creatures, what I see and what you see may not be the same. The sources of such conditioning-related differences are endless: differing ethnic or religious backgrounds; gender expectations; birth order; or simple happenstance—a particular teacher who influenced you, or an odd event that is not part of most other people’s experience.

Importantly, there is also a third, more uniquely human layer in truth’s relativity, and while it is not so commonly recognized, it is especially pertinent to our inquiry. We can be different for reasons that are more nuanced and particular than biology as we customarily think of it, and deeper, too, than just conditioning. We often make reference to such difference colloquially. When we talk about “where a person is coming from,” it is often this third sort of contextual difference that we are most observing. “Pattern language” discernments of the multiplicity sort draw on this further layer of contextual relativity.

Some of these uniquely human differences are more temporal—about context in the sense of when things happen. We see the impact of temporal relativities whenever ongoing change processes come into play—for example, with stages in individual development; with the way relationships change over time; with the steps through which organizations evolve; or with the kind of change we’ve given particular attention to in these pages, the evolution of cultural systems. The concept of Cultural Maturity is a product of such temporal “pattern-language” thinking applied at a societal level.

Other such contextual differences are of a more here-and-now sort, concerned with context in a spatial sense, with place as opposed to time. Here-and-now, in-this-moment relativities become significant whenever present-time differences with origins deeper than just conditioning come into play. Some examples include how our multiple intelligences variously influence what we see; temperament/personality style differences; contrasting political or philosophical allegiances where the roots are of a differing crayon-in-the-systemic-box sort; and the contrasting views and values of academic disciplines, departments/functions in an organization, or cultural domains. With regard to more here-and-now distinctions, we will give special attention to the effects of our multiple intelligences and to temperament/personality style differences.[1]

We get a provocative illustration of the significance of this third sort of “where we’re coming from” contextual relativity if we combine some of the differences it highlights with earlier observations about how moral choice is changing. The Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”—makes a remarkably good answer to the question of morality’s ultimate bottom line (morality’s “crux”). It holds up well no matter what the cultural or individual context is. But notice what happens if we take cultural stage or personality style differences into account. The rule holds, but it has very different consequences depending on the context. We can’t escape the fact that different people can want very different things “done unto them.”

This kind of recognition will be increasingly pertinent to good leadership in all parts of our lives as we go forward. For example, acknowledging that different people might want different things “done unto them” helps us cut through the bigotries that inherently accompany ideology. Just recognizing the validity of difference immediately weakens bigotry’s hold. And if we can appreciate such difference in a way that goes beyond just replacing bigotry with simple acceptance—that fully embraces difference—we can replace a reality of us-versus-them with a vibrant and newly multihued interactional world.

A good more temporal relativity example relates to a way in which we can misunderstand the implications of Cultural Maturity. If we are not careful, we can end up reducing the concept of Cultural Maturity to ideology—to thinking of it as good in and of itself, as good in some timeless sense. We don’t make this mistake if we always keep in mind that we are dealing with a developmental process. Few people would disagree with the statement that expecting mature behavior of a young child is not just misguided, but ultimately a violation. Similarly, when we prematurely expect culturally mature capacities within social systems, we are at the very least unlikely to see successful results. Temporal multiplicity distinctions support this needed sensitivity.

Truth has always been contextual. But our ability to be this conscious of truth’s relativities and to recognize just how far their implications extend is new. Cultural Maturity’s cognitive changes make truth’s relativities at all three levels I’ve described—the biological, that which is a simple product of learning, and these more specifically human contextual differences—newly tolerable and understandable (even fascinating). Sometimes the answers to our questions require that we take multiple relativities into account. How we experience gender, for example, includes biological differences, simple conditioning, variation that is a product of the predictably different ways various cultural stages view men and women, and how we may respond differently to any of these variables depending on personality style. Cultural differences can in a similar way involve all these levels—ethnicity at the level of the biological, tradition and mores at the level of conditioning (learning), and both cultural stage and locale at the level of our more specifically human relativities.

Effectively addressing the complex questions before us will require increasingly that we be conscious of truth’s relativities. We must never forget how what is true in one situation may not be true in another. And we can’t stop there. A casual different-strokes-for-different-folks, ecumenical acceptance of truth’s relativity leaves us well short of Cultural Maturity’s threshold. The needed sophistication of inquiry must be able to tell us something about the specifics of difference, why we see the differences that we do, and how an appreciation of such difference brings new clarity and creativity to our considerations.