Systems Thinking – new or old?
Systems Thinking is gaining popularity across disciplines and in many organisations. We include training in Systems Thinking as part of our Education for Sustainability Programme and also for our corporate sustainability trainings.
Systems Thinking is slowly getting more known in different fields and is often presented as a new or different way of thinking. Although Systems Thinking may indeed be a new kind of literacy compared to what is mainstream, it is useful to realise that what we now call ‘Systems Thinking’ has in fact been practiced by indigenous people for thousands of years.
Systems Thinking is all about thinking in terms of process, pattern and relatedness. Indigenous wisdom will tell you that our World is a vast network of interdependent relationships, a Living Web of Life. Through this Web of Life we are all connected and impacted by our actions. The Web of Life is seen as an emerging property of the evolving eco-systems that have made biological life possible on our planet. It is thus understood that to destroy these eco-systems and their interdependent relationships would directly threaten the sustainability of the Web of Life.
Stewardship for our Natural World is thus regarded as the prime responsibility for human beings in indigenous culture. And in many indigenous cultures children learn how to experience this Web of Life and how to take care of the eco-systems that give rise to and sustain the Web of Life.
Many people are looking for a new way of thinking and a new way of living. Before we re-invent the wheel, let’s learn from the wisdom of those who have walked before us and explore how we can apply this for the changes that are needed now. The laws and principles of Nature have not changed. Perhaps now more than ever before we actually need to pause and learn from indigenous people how to once again experience the Web of Life.
Systems Thinking applied to personal development
Lets apply Systems Thinking to healing and personal development to see what this perspective will help us to further understand. Systems Thinking helps you to recognise (1) networks of relationships, (2) Life processes and flows, and (3) patterns. What systems are we part of, and what system dynamics do we feed and contribute to? What is the network of our thoughts formed by; how do our conscious and unconscious belief-systems contribute to our patterns of behaviour, and how can we change those deeply seated patterns that inhibit our further development?
Behavioural changes seldom results from telling someone (or ourselves) how we should behave. Knowing what we need to change does not create this change. When we apply Systems Thinking to our personal development it helps us to have a more comprehensive understanding of all the processes, and the enabling and restricting conditions that contribute to our experiences.
Transformative change from a systems perspective requires new ways of relating with ourselves and others to break the patterns of old behaviours. These new ways of relating may initially feel counter-intuitive and uncomfortable, as information-flows are routed in new ways. If we can move through the initial discomfort and stay grounded in the learning process, we will soon explore new potentials and possibilities that we may never have considered.
In indigenous cultures those times of deep inner changes were called rites of passage and were treated with great respect. Our society would be so different today if we were to honour once again those important growth opportunities and personal transition times.