Navigating our systems, souls and society
Whether you seek a sane economy, a kinder society, a rapid clean energy transition, or a democracy worthy of the name, your political hope will probably rest upon a vision of ‘systems change’.
However, calls for ‘systems change’ are poorly understood and often ‘tacked on’ to an outdated worldview. Many who seek to ‘change the system’ are unwittingly subject to a paradigm that holds many aspects of the system in place.
"The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding."
- Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Beyond Systems Change
The fundamentals of systems theory are elegantly explained by Donella Meadows. She says any given system is comprised of three main facets:
2. Relationship between elements.
3. Overall purpose of the system.
Meadows also argues, and this is Perspectiva's vantage point, that those three things are themselves a relationship that can be grasped from a further vantage - the paradigm.
Paradigms are defined by what Robert Kegan calls ‘the hidden curriculum’ – the implicit cultural expectations on us to be, know, feel relate and decide in a certain way. For instance in a school the hidden curriculum for children is to master implicit expectations like respecting authority, empathising with others, social etiquette, when to ask, when to listen, how to speak and so forth.
Part of becoming ‘more conscious’ is therefore to develop a critical relationship to those features of the paradigm that are currently implicit, something we can only do by forms of inquiry and practice deemed ‘transformative’ or ‘contemplative’ or ‘spiritual’ – by making sense of ‘outside’ (it) by looking ‘inside’ (I) and ‘between’ (we).
Integrating Systems, Souls and Society
Systems theory is not enough because it rarely gives an adequate picture of how issues are experienced and communicated. We seek to reclaim the valid use of 'souls', not due to interest in metaphysical essences, but because we need to honour the totality of our inner worlds; and by 'society' we refer to the fullness of our shared symbolic universe - life as it is known and shared - which is itself an evolving complex system; directly affected by our systems and souls.
We believe we need to grow in our capacity to integrate objective, subjective and relational perspectives, which is why Perspectiva's work is defined by the relationship between ‘Systems, Souls and Society’.
"We can't impose our will on a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone."
– Donella H Meadow
Complex Adaptive Processes
The totality of our inner worlds
Our shared symbolic universe