"Integral" means integrative, inclusive, comprehensive, balanced; the idea is to apply this integral orientation to the various fields of human knowledge and endeavors, including the integration of science and spirituality. This integral approach is important [because] it deeply alters our conceptions of psychology and the human mind; of anthropology and human history; of literature and human meaning; of philosophy and the quest for truth ...
Ken Wilber, The Eye of the Spirit
When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
I have been introduced to Ken Wilber. My world is rocked.
Maybe you have read his work. I had not. Now, several books later, I believe Ken Wilber and his integralist friends provide a remarkable milieu for our profession's advancement. As we push beyond technical craft to accept critical responsibilities within the money forces, this philosophical school offers an exceptionally fertile environment for thoughts, growth and exploration.
Ken Wilber is a philosopher-a very cool philosopher who lifts weights, wears muscle shirts, shaves his head, drinks fancy coffee and lives in the Rocky Mountain foothills near Boulder. He speaks comprehensible English, meditates and irritates. He has survived personal tragedies. No college graduate, yet he seems to know more about more things than anyone I ever have encountered. Not only does he know, but he also thinks and feels within and along the entire spectrum of the human experience.
As an exponent of the integralist school, he envisions, integrates and articulates humanity's breadth and depth together with "everything" else. He writes prolifically, accessibly, sometimes even humorously. His work may impact your perspective profoundly-and expand our collective vision-as we integrate the technical and intuitive within our profession. This is a basis for getting along. This is a basis for specialization and expansion. It is a basis for keeping our promises, including the promise of our possibilities.
I was introduced to Wilber's modestly titled tract "A Theory of Everything" after I wrote "In Search of the Elusive Word." for the September issue of Financial Advisor. Now I like a solid sense of confidence in a person, but "A Theory of Everything"? That seems over-the-top overconfident. But he succeeds in laying an integrated approach to "everything," sensibly and understandably. Wilber addresses "integral" perspective by first breaking "everything" down to four irreducible component parts. He goes from inner to outer and individual to social, and he applies this consequent structure to all that is (and I do mean the whole lot)-from aardvarks to zeppelins, atoms to zippers. "Everything." "Everything" has an inside. "Everything" has an outside. "Everything" exists uniquely. "Everything" exists in context. Seems right. These four quadrants together form this unique nonreducible and completely functional whole:
Since "everything" is reducible to one quadrant or another, this is a profound foundation for analysis, comparison and integration.
Objectivity and science are right-side exterior attributes. With enough instruments, time, observers and testing, we can see what's what. To apply this to humans: Our bodies are visually evident and susceptible to measurement. With an X-ray, we can tell that we have brains inside our skulls and hearts inside our chests. Similarly, race, color, sex, creed, ethnicity, observable religious traditions and DNA maps are upfront and quantifiable. We see them. These are outside, right-side or exterior qualities.
The thoughts emanating from these brains cannot be measured, nor can our hearts' cores, cultures, traditions or senses of history. Neither can we compute spirituality, quantify love, calculate beauty, measure goodness or appraise fear. That's inexact work, left-side or interior work.
Left-side imprecision generates anxiety. With fuzzy terms like "risk tolerance" or activities like "determine goals and objectives," we natural-born right-siders noticeably twitch. Words like "values," "spirit" or "soul" are just plain scary.
Within financial planning, most money work has been "right side." It is generally quantifiable, exterior. There we have statistics, indexes, the "dismal science" of economics, measurement systems for banking and accounting and legal systems for protection and guidance. The right side is the traditional locus of our bits and pieces, such as retirement accounts, estate planning, rates of return, rule of 72, interest rates, inflation rates, exchange rates, betas, alphas, Sharpe ratios, miscellaneous financial products and the like. We fit the product or service to the client. This may be good sales, but it is not necessarily first-rate interior work.
Oh we give lip service to some left-side issues, but we all know that what "counts" is exterior. The left side is "soft." The left side is "touchy-feely." The left side is not "substantial." Face it, for most of us, the left side is for softies. In stark contrast, exterior, right-side work is "technical" work. It is "real" work for "real" financial planners. Right-side work is "true." It is on the test.
The left side is messier. Its substance cannot be measured. Conversations are needed to explore thoughts or feelings. Results must be interpreted. From spirit to values, feelings to hope, despair to anger, joy to fear, humor to sadness, accurate measurements elude, as do cultural implications, community-value systems, perceived natures of morality and goodness, concepts of beauty. The left side is that place in our thinking currently occupied by the simplistic term "life planning." It is an understatement to observe that left-side, interior work is not on the test.
These quadrants apply to everything. Interior personal/interior social. Exterior personal/exterior social. Thoughts/cultures. Noses/social units. Make sense?
Then Wilber addresses the wide-ranging but shallow to the narrow but complex. He observes hierarchical development from the broad but simple (like atoms) to the distinct but complex (like life forms). He catalogs common elements, posits a spirally sort of a hierarchy (meme theory) and then proceeds to catalog their comparative evolutionary parallels. Evolution includes precedent components. The name of the game is "transcend and include."
His charts are brilliant. He talks about society, the Kosmos (purposeful, symbolic spelling), science, history, evolution, memes, business, psychology, medicine, education, ecology, politics, morals, religions, mysticism, spirit and vision and anything else that might fall within the class of "everything." This is not easy going-but it makes sense. Most important, it is inclusive and nonjudgmental.
With integralism, nobody gets hurt in an obscene dance of mutual disrespect. Everybody is honored. Obviously I simplify, but at its roots, "integralism" is beautiful peacemaking and delightful exploration. It honors all while reconciling "everything." Wilber: "Everybody is right."
Implications for money advisors? Well, basically, "everything." Money is not only ubiquitous but, with an integral methodology, we can perceive it inside out. We observe from both individual and cultural perspectives. We don't need to argue whether the "technical" is more important than the "personal" because all quadrants and all levels are important. Neither must we strain reason to address interior realities. We can give full honor and vitality to the interior. even as we have given full honor and vitality to the exterior. All quadrants/all levels. Which is more important? Who is a "true" financial advisory professional? How high is up? These are truly irrelevant questions.
Clearly, in this slice of time and culture, notions of interior work trouble many financial advisors. Ironically, in current Western cultures, we may enjoy our freedoms, but we like what we can count and fear the immeasurable. If we can't measure it and see it, it seems unreal and unworthy of serious attention. This is arguably true both within our society-at-large and the subculture we know as the financial planning profession. We stress over the irresolvable tensions between our right-side skills, the knowable and measurable, and our left-side proficiencies, the messier interior work addressing such immeasurables as motivation, genuine goals and objectives, the interface of money and life and achieving vision and balance in personal relationships with money.
This is a uniquely 21st-century cultural flaw. In "prerational" societies, believable mythologies helped humans and communities with life's enigmas. Gods and fables, stories and lore, folks could believe in magic and mystery without looking like intellectually indulgent fools. Fables, morality tales and parables provided guidance. They may not have stood the tests of objective "truth," but they stood absolutely for functional truths in those vital places where ineffable ambiguities engage the day to day. These cultures enjoy integration at levels that elude us. Although primitive societies are easily romanticized, it has nonetheless seemed that these qualities enable personal senses of "place" and identity within life's great web. Not us. We are too rational. Too practical. Too scientific. Too hard. Too narrow and self-limited. Too fearful. We honor castles built on sand.
The money world is particularly vulnerable to this unfortunate fragmentation. To most advisors, money work is peculiarly right-side. Personally and culturally, we devote extraordinary resources to it. The right side contains daily stock reports, mutual fund valuations, laws, taxes and all those gnarly statistics. Obviously, financial service industries are oriented to the exterior. Respect for the left often seems reserved for the creation or uncovering of effective sales techniques. If it sells, it must be good.
Our tools for addressing left-side concerns are less than impressive. They remain tightly locked within cultural taboos and the green closet. They await development. Between cultural malaise and individual despair, amid global conflict and money's impact on individual life decisions, we desperately need tools for exploring money's left side. Circumstances abound. Answers don't.
Money is global lifeblood. It breathes life into our complex, intertwined relationships. Money challenges our understanding of life, the universe and everything. Every person is weird about money. Indeed, every social unit is weird about money. All of us need help from the inside.
One of the best aspects of integralism is its power for reconciliation. Of course, competent advisors must understand the right-side parts of money. Obviously, we must have, at the very least, a knowledgeable working vocabulary of its exterior world. For those feeling professionally threatened by left-side imminence, trust me, there is nothing about an integral approach that remotely hints at disdain for the technical. Good surgeons don't necessarily need bedside manners-but their patients do. And their patients seeking optimal health need work on habits, happiness and love. "Technical" skills are vital but insufficient. Given necessary human imperfections and personal limitations, specialization may be required.
Meanwhile, let's look at the word. "Integral" bridges spirituality, psychology and technology as it couples nicely with "integrity" and "integrated." It's "all quadrants-all levels" and successfully melds all four quadrants into a unit. "Transcend and include" leads to an integral approach to personal financial work in which all elements and implications of our craft can be addressed hierarchically, without need of divisive intellectual choices.
"Integral" carries no metaphoric baggage, yet it is an existing word with existing definitions. We can imagine a "Department of Integral Finance" at major universities. "Integral finance" is big enough to carry a lot of weight. With leading philosophers contemplating and articulating integralism, our times demanding financial literacy and the parallels abounding in other fields, this word and work will have powerful company. It is a word of the future, of vision, of clarity, yet a word that can grow with our own explorations. It is a modest but inclusionary word, giving honor to all and shutting out none. It does not purport to give unearned credit to someone who would be working within the area of "integral finance" yet epitomizes the visionary. Finally, it is a word that engages holism and ties organically to other disciplines, professions, etc.
"Integral finance." Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?
Within the integral frame, we have exterior and interior subsets. The exterior embraces financial skills and products. Including our current menus of products and services, related professions, tools and crafts, right-side evolution with interior ballast just plain works.
The left side would anchor interior work within individuals and within our cultures. It enables the big questions. How does money impact life? Why is money the second most addressed topic in the Christian Bible? Why is money the last taboo? Why can't we talk about it in polite company? How does philanthropy work into a comprehensive financial plan? Can/should inheritors be trained for their awesome responsibilities?
Can money be integrated within a pluralistic planet without death and destruction? Can couples, companies, communities or nations talk about it healthfully? Can irrational divides between classes, resources or laws be resolved? Can the negative repercussions of global monetization be minimized? Can we resolve laws, money and governmental sovereignty? Can market indifference be buffered compassionately without dreadful implications for free markets? What about the marginalized? The poor, the sick, the young and the old? Can money/family/children conundrums be resolved creatively?
What about money and spirit?
The left side relates especially to the liberal arts. It carries the weight of the human soul.
Money is the most powerful secular force on the planet. Money skills are 21st-century survival skills. Money skills do not come naturally to humans or human cultures. Money forces profoundly affect every human being and our diverse cultures in manners far-ranging and potent. We must develop a vocabulary for money's left side. We have responsibilities here.
"Integral finance" gives substance for discourse and discovery. "All quadrants/all levels" provides a framework and context for our work and related exploration. Maybe it leads to other words. Maybe it fires our imagination in manners as yet undreamed. Maybe it helps us to be peacemakers, reconcilers and visionaries. Maybe.
Maybe it brings us to our profession's purpose and function within monetarily complex and confused lives and planets. Maybe it leads to intense study, healthful micro decisions, acceptance of personal responsibility and viable peacemaking. Maybe it aids genuine understanding of the historical continuum, the nature of daily trade-offs and the future's demands. Certainly it helps us evolve and vitalize our profession's mission.
These words "integral finance" are good words. We need them and deserve them.
Thank you, Mr. Wilber.
Richard B. Wagner, JD, CFP, is the principal of WorthLiving, LLC, based in Denver. He has been a practicing financial advisor for more than 18 years and is a national past president of the Institute of Certified Financial Planners.