Mental models – Giving people personhood and taking it away

This post is about the Kegan levels of self development.  If you don’t know what that is, this post might still be interesting to you but you might be missing some key structure to understand where it fits among that schema.  More information can be found here (

I am not ready to definitely accept the Kegan levels as a useful model because often it makes retrospective predictions.  Rather than predictions of the future.  A model is only as useful as what it can predict, so if it can’t be used on the fly when you want to explain the universe you might as well throw it out.  Having said that, this idea is interesting.

When I was little, people fell into different categories.  There was my parents – the olderClass humans (going to refer to them as Senior-humans), my siblings – which, as I grew up turned into my age-group humans and through school – my peergroup humans.

People like doctors fell into SeniorClass, Dentists, Vets, Plumbers, PIC (People In Charge) – all fell into the SeniorClass of humans.  A big one was teachers – they were all PIC.  A common trope among children is that the teachers sleep at school.  Or to use a gaming term – we feel as though they are the NPC’s of that part of our journey in life.

As far as I can tell (from trying to pinpoint this today); the people I meet on my own terms become peergroup humans.  Effectively friends.  People I meet not on my terms; as well as strangers – first join some kind of seniorclass of humans, if I get to know them enough they transition to my peergroup.  Of course this is a bit strange because on the one hand I imagine I want to be friends with the PIC, or the senior-class humans because of the opportunity to get ahead in life.  the good ol’ I know a guy who know’s a guy.  Which is really not what a peergroup constitutes.

Peergroup humans are not “A guy with skills” much as we might hope for; they are (hopefully) all at our own, or near our own skill level.  (on Kegan’s stage 3) people who’s opinions and ideas we care about because they are similar to us.

Recently I have noticed events that have taken some of my long term SeniorClass and shift them into my peergroup.  Effectively “demoting” them from “Professional” to “human”.  When I think “person has their shit together” or “person doesn’t have their shit together”.  I guess there were always people who seemed to have their shit together.  Now that I am an adult it’s clear that less and less people are competent and more and more people are winging it through their lives.  It’s mildly uncomfortable to think of people as being less “together” than I thought they were.

The other place where it’s been an uncomfortable transition is in my memory.  I will from time to time think back to a time when I deferred judgement, decision making capacity, or high-level trust in someone else having my own best interests at heart – where now looking back retrospectively they were just as lost and confused as I was in some of those situations, but they had a little kid to take care of/be in charge of/be in seniority to.

What I wonder about this process of demoting people is – what if instead of demoting my adults as they prove their humanity; I instead promote all the humans to Senior-Class.  What would that do to my model of humans?  And I guess I don’t really know where I stand.  Am I an adult?  Am I a peer?  I have always been an observer…

I’m not really getting at anything with this post.  Just interesting to observe this reclassification happening and fit kegan’s stages around it.  Obviously some of the way that I sorted Senior-class humans is particularly relevant to a stage 3 experience of how I managed my relationships when I was smaller.  I also wonder that given the typical mind – whether this is normal or unusual.

Question for today:

  • Do you divide people into “advanced” and “equal” and “simpler” – (or did you do it when you were younger?)
  • Do people ever change category on you?  In which direction?  What do you do about that?
  • Assuming I am on some kind of path of gradually increasing understanding and growing and changing models of the world around me – what is next?

Meta: this took 3 hours to write over a few days.

Cross posted to lesswrong:

Liked it? Take a second to support E on Patreon!
This entry was posted in models of thinking and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply