Complex Problems Require Complex Reasoning: Part 1

Friends and Colleagues,

Can I help you understand why 1 out of 2 people will reject you for having a different opinion today? Can I help you consider why those that reject you may get downright nasty about it?

It is an understatement to say that there is so much going on in the world. At the same time, not everyone has the ability to think deeply enough to be on the solution side of resolving today’s complex problems. While everyone’s voice is important, not everyone will be able to help to resolve today’s complex problems.

Here is a theory that is going to change your life and hopefully the way you relate to others. I hope this information will also support you in standing up for our American freedoms today and share your voice in a peaceful and respectful way, while not allowing others to bulldoze you:

Human development theory, according to Robert Kegan (The Evolving Self), claims this:

  • Almost 50% of adults are operating from a grade-school or teenage level of reasoning ability
  • Almost 50% of adults are operating from an adult level of reasoning ability

Please let me offer how this impacts the voices in America today.

Those approximately 25% of adults who are in adult bodies yet functioning within a grade-school level of reasoning and emotional maturity see things in a black and white manner. That means that situations are either this way or that way, right or wrong, good or bad, positive or negative, etc. This plays out today when people use grade-school reasoning to see their opinion as right and your opinion as wrong. Either you agree or you are accused of _________. Fill in your blank with the negative term that has been used to describe you for having a different opinion. These adults are still reasoning at a grade-school level.

Adults who are still reasoning at the grade school level may have good information and be quite smart, but they have not reached a level of maturity where they can hold multiple concepts, even concepts that may be polar opposite, together. Growth at this reasoning level would be to consider multiple perspectives at one time in order to think more deeply. These individuals only have room in their minds for their own opinion and are not able to consider another view, or your opinion. So that is why you get the reaction.

Then there are the approximately 25% of adults who are in adult bodies yet functioning within a teenage level of reasoning and emotional maturity so they resist and rebel against authority or perceived authority as many teenagers do. That means that situations that require deferring to leadership, management, peers or others out of the interests of meeting the needs of the greater good will be resisted. This plays out today when people use teenage level reasoning to see all or most authority as wrong, abusive, out to get them, etc. Either you join them in the rebellion or you are accused of _________. Fill in your blank with the negative term that has been used for disagreeing with teenage level reasoning today.

Adults who are still reasoning at the teenager level may offer excellent points and be intelligent, but they have not reached a level of maturity where they can work through their strong emotions in the moment in order to reason and consider an alternative view. Their emotions keep them locked in to seeing only their side of the situation. Growth at this reasoning level would come with being able to control one’s thoughts, feelings and own will in order to engage with others in a peaceful way to learn, grow and expand one’s view. However, individuals get stuck at this reasoning level due to their lack of self-control and self-discipline.

Those of you reading this post who are parents, consider what it is like raising a grade-schooler or a teenager and think about how you can apply this understanding to half of our adult population.

This is not a judgement nor intended to look down on anyone or raise anyone over another person; this is a statement of fact. Therefore, as you consider the voices today, listen not only to what is being said but the tone of how it is being said to see if you can pick up on the maturity level of the individual.

Voice is power. All people are valuable and ought to be respected. All voices should be respectfully heard. But not all voices are reasonable and can be reasoned with. As you know grade-schoolers and teenagers have good ideas and their voices should be heard, but most of them don’t have the higher level of reasoning ability needed to collaborate to solve complex problems. Their black and white or rebellious thinking holds them back from being able to reason within a “grey” and complex world.

Let’s take a pause here. As you consider the voices around you, what level of reasoning ability are you at? What reasoning level are you seeing around you? Think about and observe this dynamic over the next week. Let’s have peaceful and respectful discussions, not one that demeans or disrespects others. Then let’s take our thinking deeper next week. Same time, same station.

Contact information for speaking, training, consulting, coaching and writing:

Dr. Jeanine Parolini, PhD, MBA, MA

Phone: 651-295-6044
Social Media: or

4 thoughts on “Complex Problems Require Complex Reasoning: Part 1

  1. Carolyn Hill DePina

    I really liked what you wrote. I would also add the anger that people hold on to. How anger digs a river so deep it takes years to but a dam up and get a new creek running. If we could only see ourselves when we respond I think we would all have room to enjoy one anothers opinions.

  2. Arloa Ten Kley

    Thank you Dr Parolini. So, how does one respond to an adult immature voice? How do you allow them to feel “heard” but not go along with their demands? I struggle with this daily! This struggle is a huge impetus to just withdraw from the world.

    • Arloa, nice to hear from you! And I apologize for my delay because I was never alerted I had a couple messages 🙂

      Engaging with more immature voices is challenging but it also helps us to grow as you know :-). I am working on this too. It requires the fruit of the Spirit…. Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness kindness, gentleness, self-control and faithfulness. I think finding ways to calm and soothe ourselves while acknowledging the feelings that are going on inside when someone is pushing for their agenda right in front of us has been helpful to me. Then once I sense it’s gone on long enough, I will start to show up more with acknowledging that I’ve heard them by reflecting back and then moving into my opinion… Sometimes I have to stand fairly firm to get my words in 🙂 sometimes I have to continue finishing my point or sentence while someone interrupts me over and over.

      It is okay to want to withdraw yet let’s think about the reason to withdraw. We withdraw to gain back our energy and our joy, our perseverance and our strength. Then we need to get out there again and love, listen, and share. Is this helpful? Jeanine

  3. Carolyn, really good point about anger… If we utilize anger in a healthy way, it moves us forward to do the right thing but if we let it build up or blow up, it’s extremely damaging. Jeanine

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