Systems thinking has been around for quite some time and evidence of thinking in systems has been around for centuries. The reason is that we can’t really fragment our existence the way we once thought we could. Instead of a bunch of unrelated components we are actually experiencing a larger system of systems.
But seeing this can be tricky if you have never looked beyond the linear relationships we see initially. We always want to associate things through cause and effect, beginning and end, inside and outside etc. But by limiting the world to these simpler perspectives, we often miss important elements.
In The Systems View of Life, A Unifying Vision, by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi, the authors say, “Over the past thirty years it has become clear that a full understanding of these issues requires nothing less than a radically new conception of life. And indeed, such a new understanding of life is now emerging. At the forefront of contemporary science, we no longer see the universe as a machine composed of elementary building blocks. We have discovered that the material world, ultimately, is a network of inseparable patterns of relationships; that the planet as a whole is a living, self-regulating system.”
Seeing the world as a system changes how we see the earth, life and death, existence etc. We start to make sense of patterns and structures. We start to see more and gain a deeper understanding.
Through this understanding we can start to improve over time. We can build the right structures in our personal lives and make sense of the complexity, the randomness, and the unfairness of life.
In the Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tzu, translated by Stephen Addiss and Standley Lombardo, we see this type of understanding. From chapter five, “Heaven and Earth are not kind: The ten thousand things are straw dogs to them. Sages are not kind: People are straw dogs to them.”
Chapter five goes on to say, “Yet Heaven and Earth and all the space between are like a bellows: empty but inexhaustible, always producing more.”
By seeing this perspective we can start to make sense of other elements of the Tao Te Ching, such as chapter eight that says, “Best to be like water, which benefits the ten thousand things and does not contend. It pools where humans disdain to dwell, close to the Tao.”
Changing our perspective to see more of the reality and less of what we wish it were, we can start to improve by following the structures in place. We can effectively start to play by the rules instead of complaining that the rules aren’t fair or that we should try and change the rules.
We can see that being like water means we are flexible and go where we are taken instead of forcing our path in the direction we desire. Water starts to then represent strength. Water, over years and years cuts through stone and creates rivers and valleys.
But we have to be able to see the full system to see how being like water can have advantages. Seeing the full system starts to unravel the structures, rules and principles of life in a way that allows us to start to live and improve by following them instead of ignoring them. Then we stop trying to move forward through what we hope it to be, rather than what it actually is.