By Mette Miriam Böll.
We are used to thinking about things outside of ourselves, when we hear words like “structure”, “systems” and “sustainability”. However, from a perspective of profound interconnectedness of all living systems, it makes little sense to talk about “inner” and “outer” without acknowledging how the two stand in relation to each other.
Through the lens of interconnectedness, we may zoom in and out – but we are still looking at the same basic phenomenon. We talk about (sub)systems within the human body, like the Central Nervous System, the digestive system etc. And we may see the entirety of our embodied being as a mind-heart-body system, with layers of subsystems nested within. These mind-heart-body systems interact. In fact, the relational systems are often primary to the more personal ones – our embodied systems grow and develop in relation to and with each other. And we know from horrid experiments on infant monkeys in the 1950’s that the preference for a sense of connection, trumps the need for food and other classical “self-sustaining” factors, leading to a critical conversation of Maslow’s famous model with a suggestion that connectedness should sit at the very bottom of his pyramid. All of our “outer” structures and systems, our organizations and institutions, our governing processes and societies are made up of human beings working together in social-relational systems, upholding habits of culture and belief. None of these “outer” structures exist in their own right – they are consistently and continuously shaped by the human beings enacting and reproducing them.
If we aspire to a global culture of sustainability, through the UN 17 development goals and other fine visions for the course of our future as a species, we MUST see “the system” as interconnected and understand that thrival and flourishing of human beings is intrinsically bound to the flourishing and well-being of each other – and of our planetary system as well. It is a profound reorientation from the individualistic paradigm that may have led to extraordinary wealth and developments at the material level in our world, yet which seems to lead to growing misery and suffering at the immaterial level.
For our ecosystems and societies to thrive, we the humans must thrive – and bring care and cultivated intention into the equation as essential components of sustainability for all beings.
Mette Miriam Böll, biologist, ph.d. and co-founder of Center for Systems Awareness, Boston.