It is a basic fact of human nature we are more developed in some areas than others. We grow through what are known as lines of development. Howard Gardeners theory of multiple intelligences popularised the idea that there are many different areas or intelligences that we can develop. Amongst these different intelligences Gardner included kinaesthetic, linguistic, musical and mathematical. Our uneven development in these areas is evidenced by the fact that some people become gymnasts, others pianists, while other still are good at solving maths problems, or learning new languages. Rarely, does one person excel in all these areas.

A person may have high intellectual development but poor interpersonal or emotional development. What can we put this uneven development down to? Why do we excel in some lines but not in others? Undoubtedly nature plays a role, but the environment is the critical factor. The nurturing we receive from our environment will determine a lot about what lines are strongly developed and which ones are weakly developed.

Consider, for example, a child growing up in a hunter-gatherer society versus a child growing up in a modern industrial society. They are not likely to have a similar development across the different lines. Which ones are likely to be strongly developed in the former? Which ones are likely to be more developed in the latter?

Ken Wilber, who developed integral theory, has identified up to 24 such lines of development. This diversity helps us understand the different ways in which it is possible to grow. However, these lines are not all distinct, but are linked, and indeed some lines are prerequisites for others.

There are lines related to the self – cognitive, moral, emotional, and ego lines. Growth in these areas will probably be to a similar level. The development of particular lines are heavily influenced by what the culture values. Lines or intelligences deemed necessary or important in a particular culture will be prioritised, while those that are deemed less essential to the functioning of the community will be less emphasised. In our culture, for example, we tend to lead with the cognitive line, while the emotional, aesthetic and spiritual lines of development are generally less developed because these intelligences are systematically less practised and nurtured.

In the same way that an individual develops the different lines through different levels or stages, society too grows through different lines such as economic, cultural, political etc. The different lines evolve in the context of a large evolving or developing process at work in the organism or society as a whole.

One factor in the divergence of development amongst individuals and societies, according to Wilber, might be down to how that person (or culture) chooses to answer the questions of life. Here are a list of some of those questions:

  • What am I aware of? (cognition)
  • What do I need? (needs)
  • Who am I? (self-identity)
  • What is important to me? (values)
  • How do I feel about this? (emotional intelligence)
  • What is the right thing to do? (morals)
  • How should we interact? (interpersonal)
  • How should I physically do this? (kinaesthetic)
  • What is of ultimate concern to me? (spirituality)

We can begin to appreciate the difference between ourselves and others by imagining how others might have chosen to answer these questions differently to ourselves. Whether that person is a close friend or family member or a person from another culture, we can develop greater understanding and appreciation for difference if we look at them through this frame.

The concept of lines of development is also a great leveller. It is a humbling thought to think that every person you meet is in some way more developed than you (just as in some ways you are more developed than them). This can give rise to a sense of appreciation and the attitude that we can learn something from everyone we meet.

The lines of development from Integral theory can offer a map for development. We can assess our level of development across all the lines and see where we are strong and where we are weak. The areas in which we are strong are signs as to where we have the most offer or contribute to the world around us, while those areas where we are weak show us where we need to put work into developing.