Cultural Maturity and Complexity

Adapted from a manuscript draft of Creative Systems Theory:

Our world is becoming an ever more complicated place. Globalization makes locales we’ve barely heard of—Azerbaijan, East Timor, Benghazi —suddenly front-page news. Environmental crises remind us of how much we have to lose if we ignore life’s intricacies and interconnections. And the greater pluralism that comes with today’s surrendering of absolutes means a world with every kind of diversity—ethnic, religious, gender, temperament, different ways and degrees of being “abled”—suddenly clamoring for its place on culture’s stage. Today’s reality has more flavors, more dimension, more voices calling out than ever before, and everything points toward our future being even more complex and kaleidoscopic.

Effective future decision-making will require a new kind of relationship with complexity. At the least, we must learn to better tolerate complexity, not run from it or respond reactively. We must also better understand how to manage complexity, and complexity often of a bewilderingly apply-and-oranges sort. In the end, our times challenge us rethink what complexity is about, understand it in new, more complete ways.

We can think of Cultural Maturity’s cognitive changes reordering our relationship to, and understanding of, complexity (of all sorts) in four related ways:

First, culturally mature perspective helps us better recognize complexity—how a diverse array of factors are ultimately involved with most any human question. And it alerts us not just to how life’s puzzles have multiple pieces, but also to how very often this is complexity of an “apples and oranges” sort.  It makes us more accepting of such more complex complexity and also better able to get our arms around it and apply it to useful ends.

Second, culturally mature perspective brings new attention to relatedness. It helps us see how all questions happen in contexts. It also helps us better appreciate how complexity’s ingredients fit together, helps us understand interconnection and pattern. Recognizing lots of pieces is critical, but by itself it only makes things more complicated. Mature understanding is also about linkages, about wholes as well as parts.

The third piece concerns who we are and how we relate. Cultural Maturity helps us better recognize our own complexity. It also helps us interact in ways that better take complexity into account—we become more able to engage others without projecting and mythologizing. Cultural Maturity’s changes make possible Whole Person/Whole System relationships—this between friends, lovers, between leaders and followers, in community, in organization as nations and as a species. They both support the option of Whole Person/Whole System relating and make the skills needed to succeed at such relating understandable.

The fourth new piece more directly confronts that need to rethink complexity itself. Cultural Maturity’s reframing of complexity involves a leap in understanding, Culturally mature thought is necessarily systemic thought. And it is systemic in a sense we have not before been able to consider.  Systemic thinking in the sense of attentiveness to detail and how parts fit together is nothing new. It is what good engineers have done since the days of Stonehenge and the Pyramids (you need this many stones and you fit them together in just this way). Culturally mature perspective helps us understand both difference and relatedness in more dynamic ways. It helps us think in ways that better reflect the fact that we are alive, and more specifically, that we are alive in the particular way that makes us human.

Culturally mature perspective doesn’t reduce complexity In fact it contributes to it. Certainly the way Cultural Maturity reframes complexity gives us even more to consider. But, at the same time, Cultural Maturity makes complexity of all sorts (whatever its source) seem less a foreign presence. It also helps us better understand how complexity works. And often it reveals underlying patterns that make complexity more manageable. If we can stretch sufficiently, Cultural Maturity makes life’s complexities not just more tolerable and comprehensible, but sources of fulfillment and inspiration.