Exploring the Interconnected and Systemic Nature of Reality
We are embedded in the systems that surround us whether we like it or not. Once we recognize that we cannot be separate from anything else in any meaningful sense, we can begin to set in motion changes that benefit the whole in more profound ways. This realization might sound constricting to the autonomous self, but it becomes liberating—we stop trying to continuously differentiate ourselves and and instead focus our energies on the healthy evolution of everything.
Let us look at an example to make this less confusing.
Susan is a twenty-four year old college grad who lives with her boyfriend. Her dad does not like the guy, although he denies his dislike. Susan is frustrated by the lack of quality relating between her boyfriend and her dad. She is frustrated by other things that her dad does as well—he acts cold toward her mother and treats his employees harshly. Susan wants things to change but she thinks she is powerless.
One day she has the epiphany that she is not separate from the family system or the work system. Of course she cannot change her dad’s behavior, nor make the relationship better between him and her boyfriend. Such an active stance actually reinforces the belief in separation. But she can change herself and the way she interacts with her dad. She sees how her relationship with her dad reinforces his role as a father: he is coaching her to run a marathon, and she still turns to him first for career advice. She sees how her willingness to be “daddy’s little girl,” keeps her from wanting to be pampered by her boyfriend.
She decides to experiment, and tells her dad that she wants to be self-coached from now on. She still wants his support at the race, and she is still happy when he sends her emails with running tips. But she does not want him to play the role of coach. Furthermore, she stops using him as the first line of defense for career decisions. She opens up more to other mentors, peers, and even her mom, and brings in their advice into her conversations with her dad. Finally, she tactfully asks him to stop calling her his little girl.
After a few months of this new way of relating, she finds that her dad and her boyfriend are becoming friends. Her dad finally sees the respectable things about him that Susan has always pointed out. He sees his entrepreneurial activity as ambitious, instead of risky like he saw before, and actually asks him about how he manages people who work for him. She sees that he takes good care of Susan. She hears her dad speak praises about his employees that she never heard before. He is more openly affectionate to her mother than she has seen in decades. Sure, it was only two kisses, but it is a start. He has a long way to go, but he is changing in ways she never would have imagined.
Susan saw that her actions with her dad were keeping him in the role of father, and keeping him from evolving. While this way of being was once healthy and necessary—while she was growing up—it was no longer an appropriate way for him to be, so it caused a lot of suffering in all areas of his life.
When she decided to be less of “daddy’s little girl” who needed his protection and advice, and asked to be treated more as a grown woman relating to a trusted friend, she gave him permission to step into a new role in all areas of his life. And by doing this in a loving and open way, she made that transition much easier. This new self for her father can be kinder and more affectionate to his wife, his employees, and his daughter’s boyfriend.
And since Susan is not separate from her systems either, she is surprised to find that situations all over her life are shifting as well. She has never felt closer to her boyfriend, as he seems to express more love than she knew he was capable of—because she was more open to receiving it. She runs her marathon faster than she dreamed—because she learned to trust her inner strength and guidance which she had externalized (note that his would not be true for everyone—some people, who relied heavily on their own strengths, might need the exact opposite in order to begin the shifts in their life). She even got a promotion in her job—the management saw that she no longer needed to be “taken care of”—a direct reflection of the way she changed her relationship with her father.
What is the Purpose?
The whole purpose of this fiction is to illustrate how interconnected everything is. While it may seem like some things are immutable, we are consciously or unconsciously reinforcing everything that is by the way we relate to it and interact with it. This is not to say that you should feel guilty and responsible for everything that happens in the world, good or bad, but that you should begin to question what part you are playing to reify the status quo, and experiment with ways to change that.
You should begin to see yourself not as some independent pool ball, victim to the whims of the other pool balls on the billiards table, but as the whole table—whose volition happens to be through one ball. You have a dramatic impact on the whole table—your whole self—despite your limited volition.
Another metaphor, if it helps, is an electron that is part of an atom that is part of a molecule that is part of cell that is part of an organism. You—the electron, the human being—do have autonomy. You get to decide where to go, but you have to stay within a certain distance from the nucleus (i.e. you still have to eat and sleep, and you can’t fly). The direction you go, whether or not you jump over to the next atom or whatever, does not always make a difference to the organism (the family system, society, etc.), but sometimes changes everything.