The Six Stages of Awareness
Wednesday, October 8. 2008
The text below is from a past Crash Course seminar. It is a very loose adaptation of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' "Five Stages of Grief."
Often a broad new awareness results in a series of emotional responses that mimic the grief associated with loss. I call these the Six Stages of Awareness.
Each of us here is somewhere along this progression. Most of us will inevitably pass through all six stages, each at a different speed, not always in order, and some will skip stages.
While we read or hear each others' comments at this site and elsewhere, my hope is that we can find acceptance and understanding of the fact that each person is naturally at a different stage of acceptance and awareness.
Each person needs to process the stage they are currently in (within normal bounds of civility and appropriateness, of course) and deserves the support of others as they progress at their own pace.
(The following was spoken at a seminar:)
Today is about examining data in a whole new way. I am going to provide you with a new framework for viewing this data, a scaffolding on which to drape this data, that is probably built a little differently than the framework you already have. The information is absolutely vital and critical to your future, but it will be worthless if we examine it in the same way that it has been presented to us by what I’ll term ‘our popular culture.’
So your first opportunity today will be the opportunity to change your thinking.
I must warn you, this will not be easy for some. I know this from experience. You may well find yourself progressing through something akin to the five stages of grief throughout the day and throughout the next few months. Awareness can be troubling enough to mirror the process of grief, and knowing this can be important in grounding oneself.
So let's now progress through some examples of what you might experience at each of the six stages.
The Six Stages of Awareness
STAGE 1: You might begin with a series of statements to yourself, such as, “No way can this be true. There must be alternative explanations. This simply can’t be; I would have heard about it.” To help speed you through this stage of denial, I offer you access to the source data so that you can check it for yourself. Further, I only draw upon sources that I believe most reasonable people would consider to be highly credible. If you can view all of the data that I will present and find some alternative set of explanations as to why and how all of these things will not matter, I need you to share this with me, pronto.
STAGE 2: Next, you might find yourself full of anger, saying to yourself (and possibly your loved ones and anybody else who will listen), “Aaaaarghh!!! Those bastards at the Fed, in the government, in media, have been hiding things from me, lying, and serving their own interests at my expense. How dare they!!!" While anger is a perfectly normal and even healthy stage to pass though, it is also counterproductive, in the sense that anger often serves to inhibit action…and as you’ll see later, we don’t really have a lot of time to spend in the non-solution stage. So for everybody’s sake, you need to move through this phase as rapidly as possible. This is also why you will not find me assigning blame and pointing fingers. Blame leads to anger and often a sense of victimization – both of which serve to inhibit taking action. Further, the "blame game" only serves to polarize people into opposing teams - and we’re all on the same team in the end.
STAGE 3: The next stage is bargaining. Here you might find yourself thinking such thoughts as, “If I simply change a few things in my life, perhaps that will be sufficient and I won’t have to really change. I’ll use efficient light bulbs, buy a Prius, and save more each year.” You will find yourself bargaining with the data for more time, a different outcome, perhaps for a miracle to emerge. Perhaps some new technology will arise that will give us abundant and limitless energy, or we'll elect a new president capable of speaking the truth and marshaling the considerable talents and energy of this country. This, too, is a stage, and I’ve assembled a framework for understanding in such a way as to help you understand the critical difference between wishful thinking and realistic solutions. Please understand that I am not going to purposely step on your hopes – I am as hopeful as anybody you will ever meet – it’s just that I want our collective hopes to be placed in the right places, where they can do us some good. My hopes center on the tremendous reservoirs of talent, energy, and problem-solving that reside in this country, this community, and this room. I am confident that we will pull through all of the problems that we are about to discuss and that we can do it with joy, verve, and excitement. Misplaced hopes and defective strategies, on the other hand, will only let us down in the future, as they fail to deliver.
STAGE 4: The next stage is fear, and it can take many shapes. “I’m going to die broke. People will come out of the cities and eat all my food and harm my family. The future is going to be unbearably bleak. I might die. I might starve. I’m not built for a world that mirrors the dystopian nightmare of Mad Max.” It is important to name these fears and confront them directly. Trying to ignore or stuff them away is simply a recipe to assure that they linger deep down, infecting your dreams and fostering paralysis. Fears are debilitating. They will prevent you from acting and they will ultimately erode your physical well-being. Most of these fears are grounded in the knowledge that our social, energy, and food networks are, for the most part, unnecessarily complicated and often wafer-thin. How will they operate in a more challenging environment? We don’t really know, and it’s that uncertainty which creates a deep sense of unease. Our food supply is both robust and fragile. If the continuous parade of trucks ever stopped rolling, for any reason, nearly all communities would find their store shelves stripped bare within 2-3 days. In fact, when we peel back the covers and examine each aspect of our various support systems, we find that they are nearly all built upon the implicit assumption that the future will be pretty much exactly like today. But what if it’s not? For myself, the only answer was to actively take steps to address each of my most basic fears. Imagine that you live in a maze made out of some flammable material and you have a fear of being caught in a fire in the maze. How could you reduce your fear? One way would be to familiarize yourself with the way out. Another might be to leave the maze and live somewhere else. Attempting to ignore the fear is not a strategy, because you would still know, on some level, that even though you are ignoring the fear, the risk remains…and so will the fear. The easiest way to reduce fear is to take concrete actions to reduce risk.
STAGE 5: The most critical stage to navigate is depression. With a realistic assessment of our predicament, it is extremely common for people to begin to harbor such thoughts as, “Crap, we’re screwed. What’s the point? I am powerless to do anything about this. There’s nothing that any of us can do, anyway.” At this stage, dark fantasies of the future begin to creep into our thoughts, and fear paralyzes our ability to think, let alone act. It is my goal to help you limit this stage to the absolute shortest possible time – perhaps we can find a way to bypass it altogether.
STAGE 6: The final stage is acceptance. You will know you are here when you begin to think, “However we got here is unimportant – it is what it is. Let’s figure out how to navigate the future with the tools and advantages we’ve got, not what we wish we had.” With acceptance comes peace, a sense of calm, and the ability to think clearly and take actions. However, acceptance and urgency can co-exist, and I do not mean to imply otherwise.
Working through these stages is not a one-way trip. I, myself, cycle through stages #4 (fear) and #6 (acceptance) pretty routinely, but spend less and less time in #4 with every pass. What I hope you take away from this is that wherever you happen to be in these six stages will almost certainly shift over time. If you are uncomfortable with where you are in this process, know that it is temporary. My audacious, gigantic goal is to enable you to move through each of the six stages faster and more smoothly than I did.
Lastly, please remember that everybody is somewhere along this curve, and my experience is that the people who are further along tend to catch grief from the people who are not. I ask that you be as respectful as possible of those who are in a slightly different place with all this. Know that where they are is right where they need to be at this moment. We can all benefit tremendously from supporting each other through this process.