A system of trees, shrubs, and fungi over and under the ground communicating to and from each other. A network of people walking, driving, working and relating to others amongst the systems of foliage, brick and concrete, bees, wasps, flowers, grass, spiders, moths, mosquitoes, ants and all the other creatures and foliage yet to be mentioned. Thinking in systems is the nest that holds everything. It is interconnected, intersectional, and unified. Within this nest exists purpose, emergence, and co-creation and within this arrangement lies an intimacy with one another, with place and responsibility.
Systems thinking necessitates an ever-intimate mind set. A relentless intimacy with ourselves and all the networks surrounding us. An intimacy that allows us to be known, not only to ourselves, but with others as well. Permitting courage, vulnerability, and empathy while being relentless with how often we allow this of ourselves. We search for empathy when angry. We understand what has made us too vulnerable and why we’ve tucked our limbs into a shell. We create intimacy by digging deeper than the one stereotype someone may fall into. We throw labels away as useless intimacy blockers.
Intimate is getting close with the systems I’m within. Being close to nature: grateful for trees, awe of waterfalls, respect for mountains, revere of eagles and herons. I touch the moss and look for edibles and watch out for the slugs below. I become intimate with my city. It’s buses, light rail, roads, bikes, buildings, bridges and those that live unseen.
Without intimacy we cannot be systems thinkers or understand that all is change and will keep changing. Without intimacy we can’t recognize that we’re too complex for labels or that we are no different from the ants or trees or other humans. I must allow myself to be intimate so that I do not lose out on myself and those around me. Without intimacy we never learn what we may have in common with someone. Without intimacy we never let others in.
To be within intimacy, we must be willing to be vulnerable and okay with making mistakes. Because we all will at some point and many times. Ever intimate means that we keep trying after getting burned, after heart break, after anger, after loss of trust. We keep trying because change is always. Always is changing. Within systems thinking we understand that things will always change so we watch for the patterns, the ebb and flow. The way a storm emerges always at certain times. It may be different each time, but it’s always a storm.
The systems thinker understands at all times the need for relentless intimacy. Matched with non-attachment so that we dissolve labels of “good or “bad”. What happens right now in this moment may seem good or bad, but what comes after (its effect) could seem the opposite so you ping-pong from happy to sad, from excited to mad. Labels are meaningless within a long view. We begin to realize that they exist to protect egos and spread hate and fear.
Positive obsession understands the long view: the systems and patterns and radiating energy of our power. In Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, positive obsession is described as without it there is a destructive fanaticism and only an enthusiasm for the moment. With positive obsession, there is adaptability and persistence. Think of the trees, mountains, rivers, things in nature that have remained for hundreds of years. They are adaptable and persistent, and change over time to adapt to illness, storms, drought and fire, yet they persist for the very reason that they are flexible and yielding to forces around them. If they had a view, they’d take the long one.
To be a beneficial systems thinker, I must evolve a positive obsession and radiate my energy of creativity and positivity so that it inevitably creates power; a positive power that ignites and unites with others. On a side, I don’t consider myself a “positive person” and am not talking about this kind of positivity. This positivity is not naïve happiness or constant cheerfulness that everything and one is great. That’s absurd. This is about realizing ourselves and others so that I can see someone within the beautiful power she has and that I have. It is this magnetism that can create something new, a power that can be grasped if we choose to harness it.
Cover photo: Purkinje cell drawing by Santiago Ramón y Cajal circa 1899