Sunday, May 11, 2008

Systems Thinking and the Dalai Lama

Quotes from the Dalai Lama
http://www.connectingforchange.ca/node/174

I feel the individual, oneself, is of course, very important. So, taking care of oneself or looking out for oneself is very justified. But if you look deeper, then one individual no matter how able or strong a person, without society, he or she cannot manage, cannot survive. That’s clear. That’s a reality...In modern times, ...individual futures very much depend on unknown other people, other continents. That’s reality. So therefore, just for one’s own interests you have to take [into consideration] others’ welfare, others’ well-being... Change or events in the outside world eventually affect us.

I believe every human profession or human activity is actually meant for human beings, meant for humanity. Human actions are for human beings—particularly in today’s world. I think in the past, maybe, different sectors carried on work more or less independently. Now today...everything is interdependent, interrelated. That’s the reality. Under these circumstances, it falls on us to work together.


The Dalai Lama -- like many other Buddhists -- is very aware of interconnectedness, interdependence, even "inter-being" (as Joanna Macy puts it).

But that, as important as it is, is not systems thinking. Systems thinking involves the NATURE and STRUCTURE of that interdependence, that interactivity, those relationships -- especially the habitual forms that are used in the exercise of power, or in feedback dynamics, or experienced as reality -- "the way things are" -- and that are maintained by the system as part of its identity. And systems thinking involves more -- including examining widely held built-in assumptions, stories, worldviews and success criteria, and noting where the system is most open or resistant to change, etc.

I see only the most rudimentary understanding of and attention to all this in what I've read so far about or by the Dalai Lama. But I sense a hook or bridge in the fact that systems thinking and systems interventions can be framed as what compassion looks like in our era when human or human-distorted systems are what cause most suffering. There is definitely a hot opportunity for the emergence of systems-conscious Buddhism. And the meta-project of awakening systems. Not only is the next Buddha a collective, but the next enlightenment is collective IN ITS VERY ESSENCE (i.e., not just an accumulation of enlightened beings, but an enlightenment of collectiveness, itself).

3 comments:

Rosa Z. said...

Hi Tom... I very much enjoyed your post... and, I am wanting to say a very strong "Yes, AND..."

I especially like, "systems thinking and systems interventions are what compassion (needs to) look like, in our era..."

AND, for me, the "next enlightenment" is about systems that foster the "right relationship" between collective and individual... moving from the current "me VS we" zero-sum model, to the synergistic relationship between "me AND we", where the stronger the 'we' is, the stronger the 'me' is, and vice-versa...

This connects with a place where we've gone "round and round" before, about the function of the individual, which I see as necessary in a “servant leadership” role (or “catalyst of collaboration” role, if the “L” word is just too charged… ☺ )that EACH of us can and NEEDS to take, in a ‘multi-centric’ universe model…

as it’s often sounded to me like you have been advocating something more along the lines of, “it’s possible to have collective leadership emerge with no individual leadership", I'm happy that I've recently come up with some "evolutionary language" to talk with you about how I see this....

i've been seeing the 'individual' (when in “right relationship”, or, another way of saying it, when within the structure of the right system….) as the AGENT of, evolution of the collective... the "pseudopod" if you will, that the amoeba sends forward, in order to move...

or, in another evolutionary metaphor, as WHAT MAKES FURTHER EVOLUTION POSSIBLE.. as in, the differentiation and uniqueness that arises from, sexual reproduction…

… or as, the “variation” is always going to be happening “at the edge”; the “weak signal” in complexity theory, that is WHERE the experimentation and the new knowledge of how to adapt to a changing system, is going to be emerging…

So for me, the question is something like, "what are the forms, structures, etc., that support the individual and the collective being in synergistic relationship with one another?

Part of that “right relationship” is PROTECTING the individual voice, the minority voice, etc…. for the great value it can have for the “larger whole”….

AND, another part of that “right relationship”, is having the right systems, with all of the feedback loops, information flows, communication, etc. that you speak so eloquently about, and that create a situation where the individuals within it, have the information they need to be able to naturally act in alignment with, the larger whole...

which is what happens when we are engaging in a DF process, for example (or, in your story of the “fertilizer factory”….)

As you know, DF is one very helpful tool in that regard, and, I see as only one example of something much larger...

Well, that's enough for now...thanks for the inspiration! It's great to visit your blogs...

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MoonRaven said...

I know that I'm coming in late for this post but reading both the original post and rosa z's comment got me doing a lot of thinking.

I loved the idea of systems thinking and intervention as a way of compassion, and that not only may the next Buddha be a collective (a la Thich Nhat Hanh) but that it may be a collective enlightenment (or enlightenment of collectiveness, as you put it)

I was even more taken with rosa z's "Yes, AND...", "me AND we" post. I think that it is possible for collective leadership to "emerge with no individual leadership", but I think taking “servant leadership”/"catalyst of collaboration” roles makes it even more likely, and more likely that collective leadership will be moving in a positive direction (see Steven Johnson's "Two Ways to Emerge" at http://extremedemocracy.com/chapters/Chapter%20Six-Emergence.pdf ). I love the idea of the individual as the 'pseudopod' of the collective. And I think that "what are the forms, structures, etc., that support the individual and the collective being in synergistic relationship with one another?" may be just the right question to be asking. As to what those 'catalysts of collaboration' might look like, see "The Guerrilla Catalyst" at http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2008/05/the-guerrilla-c.html and "Building Smart Communities through Network Weaving" at http://www.orgnet.com/BuildingNetworks.pdf --both useful articles that I will blog on soon.

And, once again, thank you both for idea and insight provoking thoughts.