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How do you make sense of the world?

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

How do you make sense of the world?

Scott Miker

Everyone looks at the world a little differently.  Our beliefs, experiences, and upbringings all play a role in how we view the world. 

Some may view the world as being led by an invisible force.  They envision a person up above making all decisions.  A traffic light turns red right as we approach it and this deity must be the reason.  We get a good grade on a test in school and it must be due to him or her.

Some view some invisible law of attraction that simply says whatever we think about we obtain.  If we want to be rich, simply think about it and money will show up.   

Some view world as a cold, harsh environment where we have to constantly fight in order to have a place at the table and make sure we are treated fairly.  We see other people as adversarial, holding us back and trying to make our lives worse so theirs becomes better. 

Some people feel life is about playing it safe.  Don’t stick your neck out and it won’t get cut off.  Some people feel life is about adventure.  Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Some people feel that you get what you put in.  Others say you get what you deserve.  Others say you get what others are willing to give you.  Others say life is simply a teacher and we are supposed to simply keep learning from all of the life lessons. 

Some say to live as if today is your last day on earth.  Some say to live so you leave the world a better place than you found it.  Some say to plan for the future because people are living longer and longer and you will need to have money and plans for those extra years. 

Everyone feels differently about life and that is what makes it interesting.  We all have our own views and beliefs and in a free country we are allowed to practice whatever religion or occupation we choose. 

But this still leaves some of us wondering how to make sense of it all.  We see two sides disagree and go to war.  They both see the same event but see it differently. 

The thing that I really like about systems thinking is that it gets beyond some of the biases we hold to see larger systematic elements. 

Then we can start to see patterns.  We can start to see things repeat in structure and appear in completely separate aspects of life. 

This starts to give us a whole new way to see the world.  We don’t see the individual aspects and the individual decisions as much as we start to see the structures and mental models that lead to those individual aspects and individual decisions. 

In The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, he starts out the book by stating, “From a very early age, we are taught to break apart problems, to fragment the world.  This apparently makes complex tasks and subjects more manageable, but we pay a hidden, enormous price.  We can no longer see the consequences of our actions; we lose our intrinsic sense of connection to a larger whole.  When we then try to ‘see the big picture,’ we try to reassemble the fragments in our minds, to list and organize all the pieces.  But, as physicist David Bohm says, the task is futile – similar to trying to reassemble the fragments of a broken mirror to see a true reflection.  Thus after a while we give up trying to see the whole altogether.”

But it can be easy to see all of the various views of life if all we are really doing is shattering a mirror and then using it to see.  It reflects the same thing but we don’t see the same image from the mirror. 

Systems thinking helps us see more connectivity between various elements.  We can start to see things differently because we see interaction where previously we only saw separateness. 

For me, this is how I started to make more sense of the world.  From a systems perspective everything is perfect.  All systems make sense. 

An event might be viewed and judged to be a certain way, but that event is probably just part of a larger system.  And that larger system is often perfect.  It is perfect, not in the fact that it only has good elements but because it operations as a perfect system and therefore has good and bad elements all combined. 

See the system and you can start to understand.  See the elements without the full system and we are left simply judging the artifacts of the system without actually understanding the system.

The next time it rains on an important picnic or outdoor event, do you find yourself asking why this is happening to you?  Do you assume you are just bad luck or did something to deserve this punishment?  Or do you see the full system of precipitation that just happens to be in a state of raining and just happens to overlap in this specific way with your planned event?