What Is Systems Literacy And Why Is It So Important

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Every time we fail to experience a desired outcome, we blame the system. Every time our interventions don’t result in desired change, we blame the system. Every time we feel helpless, we blame the system.

Rarely, however, anyone tries to define the system so that we know what must change to experience a desired outcome, see desired change, or to ensure we don’t feel helpless.

What is the system we blame? What is a system?

When you come together with others for a purpose you form a system. 

When you come together with a purpose to share joys and sorrows, you form a system we call as friendship. When you come together with a purpose to raise children, you form a system we call as family. When you come together with a purpose to learn, you form a system we call as a class. When you come together with a purpose to empower, you form a system we call as companionship. When you come together with a purpose of working together, you form a system we call as employment.  When you come together with a purpose to entertain, you form a system we call a club. When you come together with a purpose to exchange goods or services, you form a system we call as a market. When you come together with a purpose to exchange surplus money, you form a system we call as banking. You get the idea. Every purpose you participate in with others is a system. 

Remove those who came together for the purpose and you don’t have that system anymore.

Add new participants and you don’t have the same system anymore. Change the purpose and you don’t have the same system anymore either.

What you experience in the system is not a result of who are part of the system but the interactions of those who are part of that system with each other and with you. Whether it yields the desired outcomes, the desired change, whether it makes us feel helpless or able, whether you feel you included or whether you feel you belong, results from the purpose and the interactions of those who are part of that system.

A system where participants come together for a common purpose has the foundations of symbiotic relationships.

A system where participants do not share a common purpose has the foundations for exploitation of each other. It has the foundations of encroaching on the roles the participants play in their own systems or other systems they are a part of. It has the foundations of polluting their interactions with each other or those of other participants, in other systems that they are a part of.

A system where the interactions of participants are rooted in their respect each other ensures that such systems will be not violate the dignity, justice or liberty of each other. A system where participants come together for common purposes the symbiotic relationship ensures that the system is not exploitative. In such a system, none of the participants look at maximizing their benefits. They look at pursuing their common purposes. None of the participants encroach on the roles of the other participants, or the other systems the other participants are a part of. They protect the liberty of the participants to engage in other systems and the roles they may play in those systems. They do not pollute the systems they are a part of by mixing their purposes or mixing their roles.

When any participant in the system works to purposes other than the common purpose, they corrupt the system or destroy it. When any participant fails to respect the symbiosis of common purposes, they transform the system to become exploitative, encroaching or polluting.

The world we experience results from the dozens, even hundreds of systems that we are a part of.

If you are not systems aware, you do not know about the purposes and the participants who participate in the system. If you are not systems aware, you will force each other to participate in interactions that are not to a common purpose. You will not understand or build symbiotic relationships and enduring systems. 

Without systems literacy, we exercise exploitation, encroachment and pollution of other participants in the systems we are a part with.

The problems of our world, the problems that don’t seem to go away, are a consequence of our systems illiteracy. We act as if the others don’t matter. We act as if the world was only about us. We act without understanding the purposes we share or building interactions to common purposes. We act without any understanding of symbiosis.

When you recognize systems, you value the lifetime of the systems you are a part of. You move from the short-term to the systems term. You look at the lifetime of the longer relationships in our life, the Short Now, or at least a hundred years. If you want to live in a world that has dignity, justice, liberty and equality, you should care to understand the systems that you are a part of, to ensure you share common purposes with other participants, and that your interactions with other participants in your systems are symbiotic and built on respect, love, and care.

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#All views expressed in this column are the authors and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same. 

Anupam Saraph

Anupam Saraph

Dr. Anupam Saraph grew up in a Pune that was possibly a tenth of its current expanse and every road was lined by 200 year old trees. He’s committed to the cause of de-addicting the short-termers.

He can be reached @AnupamSaraph
Anupam Saraph

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