Inspiring Systemic “Thinking”

February 11, 2019 2 Comments

Image by Clearly Ambiguous, “Solar System,” shared under provision of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

Last week, I was invited to a convening held by the Social Impact Exchange to do some work with funders who are considering and/or investing in systems change (as opposed to say programmatic) strategies. The invitation was to kick the convening off by helping to “open minds and hearts to new ways of thinking and doing.”

At IISC, we have been playing with what it means to “think,” given what can tend to predominate in many maintstream settings is highly analytical, disembodied and heart-dismissing approaches. Our belief is that we need to (re)claim the fullness of our intelligence in order to create the more beautiful world we know is possible. As our friends at Management Assistance Group have written:

“Too often, we stay in generalized and practical knowing, rarely dipping into foundational knowing or artistic knowing in meaningful ways. By not intentionally drawing on these, our theories and action plans are often disconnected from our values and beliefs, and the bedrock experiences of our lives.

Moreover, privileging one way of knowing over others marginalizes and ignores other truths that people bring from other ways of knowing. This marginalization often lies at the core of conflicts, systemic barriers to change, and inequity.”

To support people in this direction of more holistic knowing, we are creating more space to explore our individual and collective interiors, sit in and with spaciousness and silence, explore reality and possibility in more embodied ways (movement!) as well as engage in deeply relational interactions that can be heart and soul expanding.

At one point during our opening, I offered a collection of systems-oriented quotes and sayings and invited people to do a self-organized group read of them (whoever felt so moved to speak, though only one quote to a person). People were asked to pay attention to what moved inside of them as they read and heard these quotes. This was done, in part, to help dislodge people from unexamined thought patters. I was explicit about this and introduced the exercise with these words from quantum physicist David Bohm:

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” 

When the group was over, and after a moment of silence, people were invited to share with a partner what they were most struck by and why. You are invited to do the same with the words below, to read in silence or aloud, to share any reactions and resonance and also to offer other systems-focused quotes/sayings that you have found to help open and expand some aspect of your thinking.

Image by Matthias Ripp, “Planetary System,” shared under provision of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

“A system cannot fail those it was never intended to protect.”

– W.E.B. DuBois

“The problem with problem-solving is the idea that a solution is an endpoint.”

Nora Bateson

“We act as if simple cause and effect is at work. We push to find the one simple reason things have gone wrong. We look for the one action, or the one person, that created this mess. As soon as we find someone to blame, we act as if we’ve solved the problem.” 

– Margaret J. Wheatley

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” 

– H. L. Mencken

“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.” 

Grace Lee Boggs

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

– Donald Berwick

“An important function of almost every system is to ensure its own perpetuation.” 

– Donella Meadows

“You’ve got to keep asserting the complexity and the originality of life, and the multiplicity of it, and the facets of it. This is about being a complex human being in the world, not about finding a villain. This is no time for anything else than the best that you’ve got.”

-Toni Morrison

“If you are not aware of how you are part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution.”

 – Bill Torbert

“We supplant one candidate with another within a broken system and expect that that will change anything. It’s like putting somebody in a car that has no steering and no brakes and putting the car into motion. The car will go for a while but eventually will crash. They pull the car out of the ditch, clean it off, put a different driver in, put the car in motion again, and it inevitably goes off the road.”

Sherri Mitchell (Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset, She Who Brings the Light)

“To be is to inter-be.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

“We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.”

– attributed to both the Talmud and Anaïs Nin

Image by NASA Goddard, shared under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

2 Comments

  • Hello,
    I am so excited to have finally found you! I don’t know what took me so long. I was clearly not asking the right question or I did not know the correct words to enter in the search box, LOL! I have been brainstorming and reading, and asking God to make me aware of a group, a blog, an organization which was of like mind with other radical thinkers. I needed a place where, as this posts correctly states, break up my thinking so I was not, unconsciously, becoming close-minded and not seeing my prejudices for people I do not acknowledge because I do not understand them. I have bought two domains but deep inside, I knew I was not ready. I knew my heart was pure and my intent for my Message to be of Love and had nothing to do with government, and everything to do with each other. I am so happy!
    Thank you, I will be soaking this alllll up!
    Sincerely,
    Caroline Harding

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