Reaching (Un)Conscious Decisions

Recently, a proposed athletic complex expansion experienced significant delays as a dispute over the removal of a grove of trees on the site produced pickets, lawsuits, environmental activists and lots of bad press for the planners. What started as good intentions ended in controversy.

Does what we value and believe affect how we act? Should it? What if we are not conscious of a particular value or belief, or unaware that others hold it dear? If we were conscious of it, would we have acted differently? A popular phrase sums up the issue: People who say one thing (expressing a value or belief), but do the opposite are not walking the talk.

Some of these folks--after being called out for their apparent hypocrisy--genuinely feel badly and immediately change their ways. However, others who deliberately deceived people were sorry only for being caught; they made a conscious decision to mislead.

Creating A Philosophy

Managers who consistently walk the talk have developed a personal and professional philosophy, an authentic expression of their values and beliefs. They are conscious of the unbroken chain linking their hearts and souls to their moment-to-moment decisions and actions. Every agency staff member and the people they serve also have values and beliefs, but may or may not realize how their philosophies influence their behaviors.

Some planning models, such as C. R. Edginton’s Program Planning Cycle, place philosophy at the center or as the first step (See PRB Dec. 2006). Others, like Benefits-Based Programming, begin with needs identification and assessment. Regardless of which component serves as the explicit starting point, both significantly influence the next step: planning.

A Model Of Consciousness

To be successful, then, program planning--like the planners--must walk the talk. As shown in Figure 1, Edginton conceptualized a process in which individuals list their separate values and beliefs, and those that are shared among all individuals are identified as the community values on which programs should be based. But how do you make the unconscious become the conscious?

Uncovering values and beliefs and accurately understanding their influence on planners and participants can be complicated. To organize this complexity, Ken Wilber’s model of consciousness can be used to clarify how the two factors shown in Figure 2 combine to form four mindsets shaping values and beliefs. Knowing the origin of people’s values and beliefs helps everyone understand “where they’re coming from,” and find common ground.

Identifying Values And Beliefs

The vertical axis accounts for the degree to which values and beliefs are unique to an individual, or whether some or all values and beliefs are shared by all people. For example, a smaller number of people believe that all of nature is sacred and must remain untouched, while the majority believe that humans may use nature’s bounty to their benefit.

The horizontal axis deals with the idea that certain values and beliefs may be “real” only within one person (interior or subjective) and not recognized by anyone else, whereas other values and beliefs are recognized as being “normal” by many or all people (exterior or objective). For example, one citizen may value a particular tree growing on the site of a proposed recreation center, while the community as a whole overwhelmingly prefers building the facility. In a court of law, the “reasonable person” represents this position.


In Wilber’s system of consciousness, intentional values and beliefs are unique--what many people would consider eccentric, radical or even irrational. The difficulty here is that the individual who holds intentional values and beliefs may not have a sense of the “bigger picture,” tenaciously clinging to a narrow viewpoint. In contrast, however, a so-called “radical” actually can serve as an issue’s “conscience,” the person who questions underlying assumptions.


Cultural values and beliefs develop in groups of people, but share the potential for isolation or self-reinforcement in a closed system. A negative term associated with this form is cult, the members of which may act in ways contrary to the desires of a larger society. People who spray graffiti on public buildings fall into this category, but so do extreme sports enthusiasts. Oftentimes, cultural-derived values and beliefs eventually are adopted by the mainstream; skateboarding is a good example.

Behavioral And Social

Both behavioral and social values and beliefs are considered to be more rational because they develop through comparison to existing or ideal norms and standards. Individuals who hold behavior-based values and beliefs accept or even seek input from other individuals, such as a manager who participates in mentoring. Similarly, a group of people who welcome examination of their values and beliefs by other groups exhibit a social consciousness. Agencies and universities that strive for accreditation exemplify this form.

Managers can use Wilbur’s model in three ways:

1. To explain previous observed behavior, which may have seemed bizarre at the time

2. To identify all possible points of view before they have people reacting to planning decisions (by living in trees, for example)

3. To raise awareness of people’s own values and beliefs by bringing the unconscious to consciousness.

Works Cited:

Edginton, C.R., Hudson, S.D., Dieser, R.B., & Edginton, S.R. Leisure programming: A service-centered and benefits approach (4th Ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Wilber, Ken. “An integral theory of concsiousness.” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 4(1), 71-92, 1997.

Kim S. Uhlik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hospitality, Recreation and Tourism Management at San Jose State University. He can be reached via e-mail at