The Need to Recognize Different Development Lines

We are not always very nuanced in our thinking. One of the areas in which that can be true has to do with different kinds of intelligence or development lines. So, for example, if a top student gets lost trying to find the post office, our tendency is to say, “You’re so smart, how is it that you can get lost so easily.” (This is one I’m particularly sensitive to, since, as my daughter will tell you, I could get lost inside of a paper bag.)

What we are not always sufficiently sensitive to – either in ourselves or in others – is that human beings have a variety of intelligences – cognitive, emotional, moral, interpersonal, spiritual, kinesthetic, sexual, and so on. (Different systems divide types of intelligent differently.) And an important thing to understand is that most, if not all, of us are differently developed along different lines. Although our tendency is to think that because we (or another) are highly developed in one are we (or the other) ought to be highly developed in other areas, the reality is that some people are far more advanced interpersonally than they are cognitively, or more cognitively developed than morally developed, and so on.

This is important to understand for several reasons. First, understanding that high development in some areas does not mean high development in others can help soften our tendency to judge others harshly, help increase our tolerance for their areas of weakness. Second, in terms of our own self-analysis, recognizing where our strengths and weaknesses lie helps us to both know where are our greatest potentials and where we might need to put some extra work.

I mention this here because it has been my experience that many people, particularly many religious people, are highly skeptical or even fearful) of some of the various systems that help identify different tendencies/levels of development. I’m thinking of things like the Enneagram (which identifies and analyzes various personality types and subtypes) or Ken Wilber’s Integral Model (which I’ve just begun to learn something about and which, among other things, identifies different levels and types of intelligence). It is certainly the case that care is necessary with any such tools, as they can easily become misused. But these systems are not at all at odds with, e.g., a Christian approach to living and the is much we can learn from them, much that can aid in our own self-development and our relations with others.