Systems thinking is important because so many of the crisis’s we face are the result of our not seeing the vast array of interconnections that have a profound, long-term impact on our life style. The long-term impacts and interconnects that systems thinking shows us are unknown to most people. We are not to be blamed for not knowing, but we have no excuse for not learning and applying what we now know! We are not used to thinking about the consequences or the implications of our decisions. We make those decisions, with the best of intentions, based on the immediate pressure or pain in a given situation and see the relief as a solution.
The conundrum of what do with the poor is a good example. People are poor for many reasons, so there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. However if food is a basic human right, then how do we go about preventing death by feeding the hungry? SNAP (formerly know as food stamps) or free grocery distributions (The Salvation Army and others) or…? These are worthy programs yet some people grumble about ‘handouts’ and ‘taking advantage of the government’, so not everyone is happy with these approaches. What to do about free garden plots?
South Central Community Garden
Every city has empty lots. In 2009 Los Angeles destroyed the ‘farm’ in South Central LA that fed the local community. The Ecorazzi website explains the back story this way,
“ The 14-acre spread, also known as the South Central Community Garden, was smack-dab in the middle of an industrial area in downtown Los Angeles and a source of food and joy for over 350 people – who, among some other 150 identified species, grew corn, bananas, guava, cactus, mulberries, avocado and sugar cane.
The 2006 destruction stemmed from a 2003 purchase of the property by Ralph Horowitz – who reclaimed the lot after the city of Los Angeles failed to do anything with it under eminent domain rules.”
The site is still empty. Here property rights trumped the hunger of over 350 people who had taken matters into their own hands (read no government subsidies) and at no cost to the taxpayers. This is a situation where well-intentioned government policies had unintended consequences because the interconnections of empty land with hunger had not been made. Now they have, so what’s our excuse?
Living Our Values
We apply our ‘values’ in an inconsistent and self-serving manner. We use our values to justify what we want in order to make ourselves feel better about our greed and self-righteousness. We ‘tut, tut’ and then look the other way when we have a real chance to act on the values we espouse. No one is alone in this!
I do values clarification work and I can tell you that we very commonly hold unimportant values as sacred and then ignore sacred values by doing nothing. We do not reflect on our own actions nor on the values we claim to hold dear. We suffer the anxiety and even projected rage at our own lack of integrity rather than face the music and bring our actions in line with what we really believe. We trick ourselves by thinking that passion takes the place of reason and truth. We defend ourselves when we are caught instead of apologizing and self-correcting. It seems we’d rather be blind than honest.
~ Kathryn works with leaders at all levels to achieve true impact as they strive for the best results. Get in touch to explore the benefits. You might also find the Culture, Values and Unintended Consequences workbook useful.
Kathryn Alexander, MA: futurist, speaker, author coach, her systems thinking approach to values and ethics enables deep change by impactful leaders.