February 5

S02E01 – Making a Difference in a Polarized World with Monica Borgeau


It’s February 2020 – the start of the United States presidential election cycle. I don’t know about you, but the country (and parts of the world) feel pretty polarized. There’s some “hard no” topics (bigotry, Nazis, etc.) but there’s also a lot of discussions where people are entrenched in their beliefs and perspectives.

I bring on this week’s guest, Monica Borgeau, author of The Change Code, to discuss why that is – what underlying factors lead to people believing what they believe? Why does it feel like there is so much change going on nowadays, and what does that mean for us? What can we do to empower ourselves so that we can change our lives (and the world) for the better? Tune in to this week’s episode to find out more.


[Jessica Karels]: All right. Welcome back listeners. Today we have Monica Borgeau with us to talk about how to make a difference in a polarized world, which is very important given current events today. Monica, we're glad to have you on the show.

[Monica Borgeau]: Thank you, Jessica. Really excited to be here and love your podcast and all the work that you're doing.

[Jessica Karels]: Thanks. Monica, tell us a little bit more about yourself.

[Monica Borgeau]: Sure. My background is in health care as well as studying spirituality and innovation. I've been in the health care industry for about the last two decades working in various transformation projects around the country. I've also studied spirituality for over two decades as well. That's what led me to write this book. All of the work that I do has had a foot in change and innovation and transformation. That's what led me to write the book, The Change Code.

[Jessica Karels]: We'll touch upon that in that in a moment. Monica, it feels like there's many issues that are vying for our attention nowadays, especially for those of us who are in the United States. I'm sure that other listeners throughout the world are experiencing this as well: concerns about political and economic systems, calling out social injustice, and climate change. Is it normal for us to have so much change happen at once?

[Monica Borgeau]: This is definitely more change than normal and there are a lot of really significant problems. In the book, I call them "wicked problems", which is based on a sociological theory actually. Wicked problems are complex problems that don't necessarily have a solution because it depends on your perspective and your value system as to how you would even approach those problems.

[Monica Borgeau]: As a result, because we have so many wicked problems, what we're seeing is just a lot more complexity today than we have - I think - at any time in human history. Our problems are just getting more and more complex. The solutions are all interdependent on other countries and other people. The problems start to actually merge and become even bigger and more complex.

[Monica Borgeau]: The reason that we have so many complex problems is because we are in the midst of a major paradigm shift as a country and much of the world is undergoing this major paradigm shift as well. This was something that I learned in my research that's based on the scientific work of developmental psychologist named Claire W. Graves that I'll talk a little bit more about in a moment. The reason it feels like there's a lot of change is because we are in this major shift.

[Monica Borgeau]: There's other times in human history where humanity has gone through a similar shift. Back in the Agricultural Era, when we moved from the Agricultural Era to the Industrial Era, that was an example of another major paradigm shift. When we were in the Agricultural Era, people lived out on their farms. They were pretty self-sufficient and families and community were really important. And then we made that shift into the Industrial Era. Where people started moving away from the country and into the city, working in different industries, and becoming a lot more independent, community became a little bit less important. And then our technology grew and all of these things that have happened.

[Monica Borgeau]: Now we've reached the point where we are making another shift because our coping mechanisms are not keeping up with the complexity of our problems. Humanity has to make a shift in order to continue to cope with the problems that we're facing. That's what we're seeing right now. A lot of these challenges and problems and really what we're seeing are some systems are starting to fall away that are no longer working. While that's really difficult to see and be part of, what I try to encourage people is that to stay optimistic because what we're able to create and put together in the new future can be really amazing.

[Jessica Karels]: That's some important messages, and I've heard that across the board. Now, with everything that's going on, we're seeing a lot more cynicism. You've mentioned asking people to be positive and encouraging them to do that, but we're seeing people either being more negative about the situation or entrenching themselves in their ideologies or or in trying to blast on social media to try and fix things, which as you said, it's a little bit too complex for each of us as an individual to deal with. What are some of the potential consequences if people don't evolve as it were, if they stay entrenched in their either their individual ideologies or in trying to call out change but not actually taking personal action?

[Monica Borgeau]: Great question. That's actually what prompted me to undertake this research and writing project. I was frustrated by all of the polarization that was out there. I was frustrated because I see all these major problems. How are we supposed to solve these problems if we can't even have, you know, a nice dialogue with people who disagree with us?

[Monica Borgeau]: Unfortunately, some of the things that we're seeing in some of the research is saying that we are seeing levels of polarization in our society that are near where they were at the time of the Civil War. There is kind of some scary potentials of things that could happen if we don't find our way to kind of come back together. There's also a lot of reason for hope and optimism.

[Monica Borgeau]: One thing to keep in mind that I found in the research is that individuals are not as polarized as we think. In fact, there's a study out there called hiddentribes.us that did a pretty extensive study of Americans across the country. It's an ongoing study to see where they stand politically. What they found is that most of us are either in the middle or slightly left or slightly right. We're kind of in that middle segment. Unfortunately, the reason we're seeing so much polarization is because our politicians are very extreme. They're very far to the left, or they're very far to the right.

[Monica Borgeau]: For the most part, the average American feels like we don't have a lot of representation in our political system. What ends up happening is a little bit of tribalism. You've raised toward one political party and so you tend to align there. To make it more complex, we all have different value systems. Claire W. Graves, the developmental psychologist that I mentioned earlier, outlined in his research eight different value systems that humans go through.

[Monica Borgeau]: We're in a really interesting time right now because we have the most active value systems in place at any time in human history. That means we have people in all eight, and actually a ninth one has been identified, so potentially nine different value systems. Each of those value systems have their own operating manual for how society should look how it should function. That's one of the things that's really causing a lot of this friction because people have these very different views of how the world should look. It's a subconscious viewpoint, so they don't even necessarily realize it, but it determines really how they think. Not necessarily what they think but how they think.

[Jessica Karels]: That is a good point. I've actually seen this play out on social media where various topics pop up. Social media is like the one of the worst places - but also one of the most interesting places - to watch politics. The algorithms try to select people who are close to you because they're trying to boost engagement. It's interesting watching people try to bring up different solutions to a problem, and being able to pick apart and see where that their solutions coming from - the values on there. Then, also seeing why the clash is happening, and it's not so much a black and white issue. People have, as you said, different values or things that they feel are important, and that's driving how they feel, not a certain problem needs to be solved.

[Monica Borgeau]: Oh, definitely. Social media has made this even more complex,if that was possible. We also kind of have to think about how it was really intended. I think of social media a little bit as having a conversation in the grocery store because it's really difficult to have deep and meaningful conversations on social media. Unfortunately, a lot of people, I think, are wanting that type of interaction. When you look at social media, it's just little clips and sharing articles. It almost creates an atmosphere that's really ripe for polarization. Then you reference the different algorithms. Facebook and different social media sites are programmed to show us more of what we like. It starts to create our own little bubble potentially and I know a lot of my friends and colleagues have hidden people with different political views or unfriended people. That leads to more and more of this perception that the other side is really different or even bad, or some of the stereotypes, because we are creating these little echo chambers almost within our social media systems.

[Jessica Karels]: Yeah, exactly. Let's switch gears and talk about your research. From what I've seen just from browsing your website and going through the assessment, it's really exciting! So, what is this Change Code?

[Monica Borgeau]: Yeah, so it is so exciting! I had decided to write this book on change. Back in 2014, I wrote an article called Seven Ways to Change the World and it was in Huffington Post. I got emails from people all over the world that said that it inspired them to go and make a difference. It really taught me the value of a positive, optimistic message that would help inspire change. That was how I started off on this journey.

[Monica Borgeau]: Of course, once you commit to something and step into it fully, the universe has this way of opening all of these doors for you to help guide you on your path. That's totally what happened for me. Almost immediately after making the commitment to write the book, I learned about the work of Claire W Graves, which is also sometimes called Spiral Dynamics. What it is, is it's the underlying pattern for human and societal change, which is incredibly powerful if you think about it because it helps describe or helps put context to what is happening today in our world.

[Monica Borgeau]: It also helps us see where the next stages are, and really what's possible. Then from a personal level, we go through those same stages as individuals. Once you understand the different stages, you can almost go back and map your own individual life and really start to see your own personal patterns. What's really cool about it is that it follows a natural shape that we see throughout nature, which is a spiral. It's because the different stages go from left - which is goes from me to we - and back and forth, and it goes up each time we change layers. As we get more and more complex, the shape begins to go up in the shape of a spiral, but you can also kind of go back down the spiral a little bit too interesting. If you'd like I could go into the different stages.

[Jessica Karels]: Yeah, go ahead.

[Monica Borgeau]: Okay, awesome. So, as I mentioned, Claire W Graves, identified eight different stages, or I call them layers because it's really like a layer of an onion. Each layer builds upon the previous layers. You can't skip a layer or anything like that. You have to go through all of the layers in order. Graves's research, he looked at more than a thousand individuals over the course of more than ten years, and so is a really extensive study. Since then, scientists have gone on to really validate this research. This was done back in like the 70's. I think people just weren't ready for it yet, but now I feel like the time has come for this theory to come out.

[Monica Borgeau]: Now I'll just give kind of a quick overview of the eight different stages or layers that Graves identified. They're color coded, just to help remember them better. The first one is Beige, which the focus on that is for an individual who is coming from the Beige perspective is on just meeting basic human needs, including food, comfort, sleep, reproduction and safety. We don't see a lot of that in our society today. We do see that if there are homeless people potentially some of them might be coming from a Beige perspective, or people who have mental health issues, or who have Alzheimer's; those types of things that where they're just really focused on meeting their basic needs.

[Monica Borgeau]: Then the second layer is Purple, and the focus for individuals coming from the Purple value system or layer is really on family and keeping the good and bad spirits happy. There's a lot of belief in exterior spirits and in keeping those happy keeping the nest warm and safe. This is also the first communal layer. The first layer is really focused on just the individual. Wwhen we move to Purple, they're also really focused on the whole community as a whole. So it's very tribal safety driven.

[Monica Borgeau]: The third layer or stage is Red, and the focus on that is action and assertiveness. People who are seeing the world from a Red perspective see the world as a really dangerous jungle full of threats that they have to survive. And the way they're going to survive is to dominate those are weak who are weaker. It's really power driven, taking action dominance, very self centered. And it's take what I want when I want it, so Can anyone think of some individuals that might be coming from the Red perspective?

[Jessica Karels]: Yeah, I'm not gonna name names here, but that sounds very familiar in this day and age, and I can name at least a few.

[Monica Borgeau]: Yeah, for sure, like a good example from the movies might be like Rambo or something like that.

[Monica Borgeau]: Then individuals and societies move from Red to Blue, which is the fourth layer stage. This is when order really comes into society. The focus is on righteous order. This is when Christianity really became big in our societies, churches, the hierarchy. It's also very authoritarian. It doesn't have to necessarily be a religious structure, but there's a right and wrong conduct. There's only one right path. If you stay on that right path, and sacrifice in your life, then you're going to find rewards later in life. Many of us were raised in a very religious household; we might be able to relate to that Blue value system. We still see a lot of Blue value system in our culture today.

[Monica Borgeau]: The next one is Orange, which is five. In Orange, there's a big focus on materialism. It's very much driven by technology, scientific advances, and, and competition. Orange, up until recently, this has really been the predominant value system of our society. During this time, this was really the Industrial Era that I referenced earlier. We've made a ton of advancements. We put a man on the moon, we've made all of these medical advances so we can keep people alive longer. There was a lot of good that happened, but one of the problems is that we've been in Orange for so long that we're starting to see the negative aspects of Orange. All the plastic in the ocean and corporations that maybe don't care about the planet or individuals. We're in that stage of Orange, we're starting to see a lot of the negatives. That's where humanity or society as a whole is starting to shift into the next layer, which is Green.

[Monica Borgeau]: Green is really focused on healing the self and the planet, equality, and creating networks. Green really values consensus decisions. It doesn't like authority or hierarchy. There's a breaking down of hierarchy, and there's a real quest for harmony. I don't know if you can relate to this, but I'm starting to see now that I've studied these theories. I see Green emerging everywhere. It used to be that I go to the airport and every airport would have giant Cinnabon, and now I'm starting to see smoothie stations and salad bars and that sort of thing at the airport.

[Jessica Karels]: I have not been to an airport in quite some time, but I am seeing a lot more when it comes to health-conscious food and accessibility to healthy food.

[Monica Borgeau]: All of those things are part of this shift into Green, starting to really focus on our effect on the planet and those sorts of things. That's the layer that we're moving into right now. What's really exciting - and one of the aspects of the series that I just love - are the next two layers. We are moving into Green, but the next two layers and value systems that are possible for us as humans that Graves was able to document, he called them second tier value systems. He called it a momentous leap for humanity because these next two layers are more able to handle more complexity than all the previous layers combined.

[Monica Borgeau]: The predictions are that our society is not going to stay in this Green layer that we're moving into for very long, because things are just going faster and faster and faster. We have the potential of moving into the second tier value systems, really, maybe within our lifetime. I work with a futurist Steve McDonald, who wrote the foreword for my book, and he has projected that we could be looking at like 2032 to move into the second tier value systems.

[Monica Borgeau]: The cool thing about the second tier value systems is that one of the indicators that you're in these value systems is that you are able to kind of walk away from fear you're no longer driven and motivated by fear. You're able to look at things with a better perspective, and a more perspective. You mentioned that issues are not as black and white. When an individual starts to move into the second tier value systems, they are comfortable with paradox and having two things that seem opposed, be right at the same time. For example, with the immigration crisis, you could be concerned about immigration but also be concerned about immigrants and be able to find solutions and take the best sides of both parts of the issue to create really unique solutions.

[Monica Borgeau]: That's Yellow that we would move into in the second tier, which is the seventh layer. It's really focused on personal freedom, but without harming others or excessive self interest. It looks at open systems, functionality, flow living and flow you've heard that term, I'm sure. A really amazing level that really pushes humanity forward.

[Monica Borgeau]: And then the last layer that Graves identified is Turquoise, and with Turquoise the focuses on the power of the universe, the good for all living things, and looking at integrated systems. The eighth layer, Turquoise, is very capable and spiritually oriented, appreciates awe, reverence, gratitude, unity, simplicity. A lot of the trends that I see right now for simplifying our lives and minimalism. Those are starting to show signs that this Turquoise is emerging. Even though our culture is just moving into Green, the system I mentioned earlier, individuals can be in any of these value systems right now. Actually, it's not as cut and dry because we're a mixture of multiple value systems of course as individuals; it's not just single box.

[Jessica Karels]: Exactly. I went through the assessment yesterday as I was preparing for this. I was kind of amazed at the blend that I had. How could someone benefit from taking the concepts within The Change Code, going through the assessment, and then trying to apply some of these concepts in their own lives?

[Monica Borgeau]: Great question. I feel like understanding The Change Code and these different value systems helped me understand what's happening today. It helped give me optimism for what's possible for us in the future. From my own individual perspective, it really helped me map out my own life. You can see yourself when you look at these different layers and where you were at different parts of your life, and you can see where you are now. It also kind of helps you to see some limitations.

[Monica Borgeau]: For instance, I'm driving down the street, just have my brand new chai tea latte, which I love from Starbucks or from a coffee shop, and somebody in front of me pulls in front. I have to slam on my brakes. That impulse to cuss at them and swear and just get all upset, that's my Red layer coming out. You become more and more aware of these different value systems and layers, because it is like an onion, all of those are, they're building upon each other. Sometimes you'll express one more than another. Some people who work in a very corporate environment - which I have done many times in my life - you might reflect one of your value systems more than the other when you're at work, but then when you're at home with your family - who accepts you how you are - you might express more of your true value system at home. We have that ability to work through the different value systems. It's really helpful to understand them and our own personal development and then also looking at what's happening in society as a whole.

[Jessica Karels]: Even being able to look at our friends, family, other loved ones, seeing how they're acting, and perhaps trying to figure out what what are their value system using this model?

[Monica Borgeau]: Exactly. That was really helpful for me too. The way individuals can be portrayed in the media sometimes is that they don't agree with me, so they're evil, or they're bad or there's something wrong with them. Studying these value systems really helped me to realize that person might be coming from a different perspective than I am in a different value system, but they are doing what they believe is right and that they're not evil, and that there is value in every perspective. The more we can understand where someone is coming from, rather than trying to push them into our value system, the better. I think that's what we do a lot of times. It's like, you have to think the way I do or you're wrong, and of course that creates defensiveness and anger on the other side. Starting to understand those perspective is really, really helpful.

[Jessica Karels]: Yeah, I can definitely see this as a tool to identify common bonds and help with empathy there.

[Monica Borgeau]: Absolutely. I talk about that a little bit in the book too, because I'm hoping that how people will really use it is to begin to create bridges and begin to work together. One of the really cool things is that once you understand these layers, you can see where we're going next. I work a lot with visionaries and change makers and leaders who are wanting to build the future and create a positive place for us to go next.

[Monica Borgeau]: From this research, we know that the next layer, Green, is very communal. It's very community oriented. Healing the self. Healing the planet. The more we can build those community bonds and start to look at ways to connect with our neighbors and our peers, the more we're going to help with this transition and help create more positive experience during the transition.

[Jessica Karels]: With the assessment that you have on your website, have you found any interesting trends with the responses that you get?

[Monica Borgeau]: It has been interesting and it's a lot of fun to take it because it just gives you an overview of how you line up with the different value systems. Of course, we're all complex and it's hard to put people in a box, but it does give you an idea. I do definitely see a lot of individuals that have a lot of Green. I'm starting to see a lot of individuals with a lot of Yellow. Some of those higher tier value systems, we're starting to see more and more people with those traits. Frankly, I think that individuals who, who are in Green are really interested in this type of topic, maybe more than other value systems, so that might be part of it as well.

[Jessica Karels]: I know for myself, I scored an 85 out of 100 in both Yellow and Orange. As you're explaining this, it's like I kind of bypassed Green; I was at a 55 there but when you're competitive and you start going open minded, I can see that. What also caught my attention is I had 80s in both the Red and the Blue. Both the aggressiveness as well as structure. Given that I work in a sales environment by day as an analyst, for me, I'm looking at that going, "Oh, okay, that makes a lot of sense. That that's my work side." And then the Yellow and Orange are more of my innovator and entrepreneur side coming out.

[Monica Borgeau]: That is really interesting. And it's fun to kind of look at why people approach the quiz the way that they do, and why they have the value system that they do. The explanations that you just provided definitely give a lot of rationale for why those might be the way they are. What's interesting too is it also helps to identify some of our blind spots. If you scored lower in Green, that might be an area that you could take a look at. To really be in this second tier and a well-rounded individual, we have to be able to move through all of these layers and learn the lessons from each of them.

[Monica Borgeau]: I was just talking to a life coach earlier today who uses this theory in his own work and what he was telling me is he meets a lot of other life coaches that have really low Orange scores. What he tells them, and he has found, is that they haven't learned the lessons of money. They haven't learned the lessons how to create money, how to make money, how to save money, all of those things. If one of our scores is low, that could be an opportunity for an area that we need to develop.

[Jessica Karels]: That is a good point there. Monica. Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your knowledge about managing all this polarity within society and better understanding our own values as well as those of others.

[Monica Borgeau]: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it and love the work that you're doing.

[Jessica Karels]: If any of our listeners wants to connect with you. How can they get in touch?

[Monica Borgeau]: I have a book web page, that is thechangecode.net. On the website, you can get a free chapter from the book. You can take the free assessment that you mentioned. It's also got links if you'd like to order it or connect with me on social media, and I also have a Facebook group that is linked to on there. That's Agents for Change if you want to connect to other leaders and change agents as well.

[Jessica Karels]: Thank you very much.

[Monica Borgeau]: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Be sure to follow me at @geekgirltarot on Instagram and Twitter. You can also follow my updates on Facebook.

Looking for more? Check out my other episodes here.


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