He took a knee

Monday, Sept. 12, 2016

We agree, then?

I think we can agree that Colin Kaepernick took a knee and set off an emotional, nationwide conversation. After that, however, agreement quickly devolves. We need to take care to unpack the question so as to be fair to differing [values] views. Last week I put forward the idea that to Kaepernick taking a knee was an expression of intentional, personal protest, all clearly acknowledged by him upfront. We also identified that the object of his protest is racial discrimination in policing seen in brutal and lethal force used disproportionally against black people. We also acknowledged that research studies clearly demonstrate the discrimination Kaepernick protests is quite real, and, as racial systems are, it is ubiquitous.


one fact
Creative Commons CC0

OK, our opening question in the exploration of the ‘he took a knee’ question is rather large in scope: “Who gets to define what ‘protest’ means and how it applies in this, or in any case?” Obviously, in the most general sense protest involves the objective expression of subjective dissatisfaction. Protest occurs when someone, or some group, is no longer willing to quietly tolerate what is unsatisfactory/unacceptable and they give voice to their dissatisfaction. So, let’s begin this week by breaking down Kaepernick’s protest in basic Spiral Dynamics [SD] terms. We’ll follow that with acknowledging a frequent objection to Kaepernick’s protest. Then, we’ll take on a bit more brain science, and finally, as space allows, we will begin addressing the concern/objection raised.



Weaving her Journey ~ Gaia Orion || gaiaorion.com

Protest in Spiral Dynamics [SD] terms…

He took a knee, that’s the fact. In SD terms, Kaepernick’s [heroic||disgraceful] behavior is an expression of Orange [ER] values as his protest represents his own personal choice to express his first amendment rightsnoteour U.S. founding documents [Constitution and Bill of Rights] are tangible expressions of Blue [DQ] ‘order’ values and the ideals they contain are a prime example of the expression of Orange [ER] (Enlightenment) values. In practical terms, Orange [ER] values liberate us to a measure of authoritative individuality. Further, last week, we allowed that the object of his protest is an ever present system of policing and criminal justice that disproportionately abuses and oppresses black people. So, Kaepernick’s protest springs from a constellation of DQ/ER/FS valuesBlue [DQ] (constitutional) ‘order‘ values being voiced through Orange [ER] (individual) ‘rights‘ [Enlightenment] values, and all animated by Green [FS] (racial equality) ‘justice‘ values. Simple enough, so how do we get “heroic || disgraceful” out of the same fact?


Creative Commons CC0

Out of order

One concern frequently raised with regard to Kaepernick’s protest is the immediate context of the protest, e.g., during the “Star Spangled Banner” portion of a National Football League game. Thus, traditional symbols like the flag and anthem enter the consideration of this particular protest. Choosing those aspects of the he-took-a-knee fact as the key to discerning the meaning of Kaepernick’s protest is most likely the expression of a dominant Blue [DQ] ‘order‘ values set. On this view, the first amendment nature and racial justice purpose of the protest are totally discounted, and the fact that protest is disruptive [e.g., violates Blueorder‘ and Purpletradition‘] is now seen as paramount and determinative. Kaepernick’s Blue (Bill of Rights, law) is challenged by the opposition’s Blue (duty, honor, law). So, how do we discern whose Blue (order) has final authority in Kaepernick’s protest?

Additional facts

As I’ve said, Colin Kaepernick’s stated intention was peaceful, respectful protest. When he was contemplating the kind of protest he would make for his cause he took some very sensitive, compassionate steps. He was protesting police violence against minorities. He knew the context for his protest would give it a good chance of being heard, maybe even effective. At the same time he recognized the powerful symbols at play in the dynamics of his protest. While his protest was never meant to target the flag or anthem, Kaepernick knew those symbols would be present and that they quite naturally conjure images of the military—frequently, military honor guards bear the flag. Kaepernick was thinking about making it a sitting protest. Even so, he sought out the counsel of a decorated veteran, Nate Boyer, regarding what he should do (here). Boyer explained to Kaepernick that kneeling was a sign of respect in the context of the military and he advised him to take a knee. The rest is history.

A bit more brain science…

While it’s true our emotional systems act as the primary arbiter of how data will be interpreted, we need some nuance on that. So, borrowing from the work of Dr. Aaron Beck [in distinction to Dr. Don Beck of SD] and his research in cognitive-behavioral therapy, we understand that our cognitive thought does indeed vector our emotion. So, our emotion vectors our thought and our thought vectors our emotion. The process of apprehending reality, along with its meaning, is a perichoretic relationship of emotion and thought.

Feedback loops…

This may seem quite confusing as it appears non-binary. However, what if we consider that the way our thought (secondary) vectors our emotion (primary) is a part of a feedback loop?

A. Beck offers the example of a person, home alone, who experiences an unexpected crashing sound in another room. A natural reaction would be the fight/flight, fear response of the reptilian brain. However, if the subject also holds the cognitive apprehension of an earlier weather report calling for an afternoon thunderstorm with sudden wind gusts—and holds the memory that the window is open in the guest bedroom next to an end table with a top-heavy lamp—, then instead of reaching for a weapon or escaping out the nearest exit the subject would calmly get up and go close the bedroom window and reset the overturned bedroom lamp. So, the emotions we initially feel and our discernment regarding any particular fact can, in due course [like in constructive, rational dialog], be tempered, mitigated, or even transformed along with our responses (behavior). Turning to close, we’ll definitely pick up the systemic white supremacy issue more at a later date.


Creative Commons CC0

Blue vs Blue

So, whose Blue (order) has final authority in Kaepernick’s protest? In a word, Red [CP] ‘power‘ values have final sway in such a standoff. While his ultimate decision is likely vectored through Beige, Purple, RedBlue, Orange, and Green values considerations, finally Kaepernick had the power (his will and passion) to make his protest. The nature and substance of the Blue laws [local, state, federal laws, and N.F.L. rules] that attend Kaepernick’s protest did not have any legitimate power [available regulations/sanctions] to stop him. We recall a key value/animator to Red [CP] is emotion, Red is impulsive and well known as such. The perceived failure of Blue to manage Kaepernick’s action, his seemingly ‘impulsive’ dis-order often leaves those who oppose his actions painted red—conversely, after all, remember it’s a Red [CP] power-grab to try and define the Blue to which Kaepernick must conform in the first place because as we’ve already seen he has valuable and legitimate Blue, Orange, and Green values commitments going for himself, too. So, those who oppose Kaepernick’s protest often end with a passion of their own to strengthen the grip of Blue authority over what they perceive and decry as deviance.

Last week I provisionally said that beauty and protest are both, at least to some extent, in the eye of the beholder. I say ‘to some extent’ because with regard to ‘protest,’ the feedback loop in my brain allows for added facts like ‘intention’ and ‘demonstrated concern’ to weigh in on my discernment.

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

Note: I know it’s ambitious trying to introduce a big picture idea in a blog format, so I’m using a serial approach. Introductory post (here). First in series (here).


SD Worldview Color Key



7 thoughts on “He took a knee

  1. Michael, I love how you take a specific event to teach us about spiral dynamics. What interests me most is how so many stages are implicated within one person’s action in a specific context. As an artist I appreciate the use of colors in your text, this reinforces the fact that your articles are teachers of this great theory which I am a fan of! I look forward to reading what’s coming next!


    1. Thank you so much, Gaia!

      I really love your Weaver image that is featured above—well, i really love all your work. Please know that i’m very much looking forward to integrating your gifts and the blessings of your art into my blog going forward.

      I will include a live link under your images so that sojourners here may find their way to your awesome site.

      And i’m really ok with the reality that your images will be far more interesting and informative than any text i may conjure up here. 🙂

      I couldn’t be more happy than to have your presence on my blog site through your art. Thank you!

      peace and peanut butter,
      Michael L. McKee


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s