Culturally Mature Systems Thinking and the Dilemma of Differentiation

Excerpted from Quick and Dirty Answers to the Biggest of Questions

The most precise language for talking about where Integrative Meta-perspective takes us draws on the concept of systems. Systems thinking emphasizes the need to consider all the pieces; that connections are as important as differences; and how, when what we are considering is in fact a system, the whole ends up being greater than the sum of its parts.

We can use systems language to frame most any culturally mature challenge—from the most personal to the most encompassing.

Moral decision-making in a world without cultural guideposts requires a new ability to take all systemic factors into account. Identity beyond Cultural Maturity’s threshold requires that we include all the diverse aspects of our makeup (a recognition reflected in the need to more consciously acknowledge intelligence’s multiplicity). Leadership requires increasingly that we move beyond the mythologizing of authority and engage leaders simply as people with tough jobs (as whole beings). Culturally mature love requires that we move beyond making the other our brave knight or fair maiden and, in a fundamentally new sense, love as whole people. And relationships between nations require that we surrender past notions of “chosen people” and simply appreciate our systemic differences and similarities. On all these fronts, making effective choices in the future will require what Creative Systems Theory calls Whole Person/Whole System formulations of identity, relationship, and truth.

But systems thinking as conventionally conceived cannot help us as much as we might hope. Most systemic thinking confronts a critical obstacle when it comes to the kind of understanding the future will increasingly require. Until very recently, our systemic models, even for ourselves, were, mechanical models. Conventional systems ideas appreciate intricacies and interconnections, but the assumptions are most often those of a machine world. Even when the system of interest is a human body or an ecosystem teeming with organisms, the language remains that of a good engineer—hydraulics and forces, gears and pulleys.

The Dilemma of Differentiation in the Dilemmas and Paradoxes section takes a closer look at this “life” conundrum and highlights multiple ways systemic thinking can go astray. The important recognition for now is that  Culturally mature understanding requires a more dynamic and complete kind of systemic perspective than we have been capable of grasping in times past. In the end, it must be able to address not just the fact that we are alive, but that we are alive in the very particular, aware and audaciously creative sense that makes us human.