by Tom Atlee
Transformational change depends primarily on changing social systems.
A social system — an economic or political system, for example — is how a society is organized. It is a pervasive and powerful pattern of social arrangements that shapes people’s lives and interactions.
Any time we seek to do something with other people, we run into the structures, processes, institutions, technologies, and beliefs of our dominant social systems. These then powerfully shape and channel our efforts.
If we want to get or give a product or service, we have to use the economic system — which in the dominant form usually involves money, buying and selling. If we want to change a law or a war, we have to use the political system — which in the dominant form usually involves fighting against those who oppose us and convincing politicians we have votes or dollars to influence their next election.
Whenever we try to do something with others, we have to use the existing systems — or else create new systems that those other people will use with us.
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The only way to change this, to reduce this habitual co-creation of messes, destruction, suffering, apathy, insanity and catastrophe, is to change the social systems that create them — or, more accurately, change the social systems that cause US to co-create these problems over and over and over again.
* If we created an economic system that accounts for the full social and environmental costs and benefits of economic activity — a system that brought that accounting into the costs of products and services and decisively into the deliberations of governments and corporations — we would suddenly find the free market healing and preserving the world, instead of destroying it.
* If we created a political system that calls forth and responds to the collective wisdom of the whole society more than to the money and manipulation of special interests — we would suddenly find politics and governance cranking out policies and programs that nurture — rather than undermine — the best things in life.
* If we created education systems, knowledge systems and journalism that spread big picture, co-creative, possibility-rich perspectives more than the boundaries and battles of segregated events, ideologies, and academic fields — we would suddenly find more listening, learning and life-serving collaboration toward sensibly shared goals rather than life-draining battles over turf, control and abstractions.
If we want to be transformational change agents, we cannot afford to lose ourselves in the immediacy of the destruction, suffering, insanity and dangers we see increasing all around us. We need to focus on the social systems that generate that destruction, suffering, insanity and danger.
As the dysfunctions of our current systems accelerate, we need to help people realize and address the systemic causes of our problems. This takes courage as well as insight, and an ability to see through real-life pain to the seemingly abstract sources of that pain…. and to stay focused on systemic transformation that will replace that pain with co-creative, wise collective action.
It is extremely likely that, despite how things seem, we have more resources, time, and space to make these vital changes now than we will have in the future. System changing action today will make make more difference, and come with less cost, than similar efforts in the future.
It is time to shift our attention, our activism, our philanthropy, our citizenship, and our transformational agentry from fixing up symptoms — however painful and upsetting they may be — to transforming the causes. That shift can bring about the world we all long for.