What We Know That Ain’t So

The paradigm that emerged in the 17th century set humankind as the conqueror and manipulator of all things for tangible ends. Moreover knowing something meant that it is expressible and explainable in the language of mathematics (i.e. numbers, measurements), as everything that was anything must be quantifiable and quantified if it is to be understood.  Accordingly everything in the universe became an object to be measured and modeled into exact laws of cause-and-effect. 


In other words, all that’s important is that which is tangible, the intangibles are irrelevant. Though that which is not material (i.e. not matter) is by definition immaterial, the single-minded adherence to this paradigm has resulted in that which is not material being unimportant.  In other words, if it is not material then we pay it no mind it doesn’t matter!  Evidence of this can be seen in management’s focus on metrics, analytics and (tangible) results to the exclusion of meaning, value and joy in so many of our organizations.


Ask How, Not Why

Moreover this paradigm with its mechanistic system of orientation favors intellect above reason.  That is, being practical and repulsing against the contemplative, the realized utility in the pursuit of how (i.e. technology) supplants and makes irrelevant any consideration of why and to what human benefit.  As a result, today we have the development and acquisition of technology—we’ve become a society of technocrats—in the pursuit of greater manipulation of and more control over our objective world.


Our language is quite telling of how much we’ve become technocrats.  How many times have you heard others speak—or have you spoken—about the need for acquiring the tools to be more successful or effective? As if we are the mechanics of the machine!  Just consider that far too many leadership seminars tout the tools one will acquire by attending and that far too few speak to the understanding one needs for the development of their personhood.


Because the capacity for reason is underdeveloped, far too many have become incapable of understanding and foreseeing how their manipulative actions and pursuit of control (with the help of tools) creates an environment that diminishes viability.  As Alvin Toffler reminded us “our technological powers increase, but the side effects and potential hazards also escalate.”


So we utilize our technological advances and significantly impact each other and nature irrespective of what reason might tell us about the effect of these actions upon others and humankind in general.  It is from this system of orientation that we’ve come to believe that it is not only possible, but that it is right, for us to separate ourselves from each other and to quantitatively know and judge each others’ utility relative to one’s (material) self-interests—our stewardship responsibility is just not acknowledged, it is denied.  Thus we can understand why value today means that which serves one’s own material interests as opposed to what is generally good (for all sentient beings).


Overcoming What We Know

Are we destined to live in such an uncaring dog-eat-dog world?  No, we aren’t!  Since our world is a humanly created world we can change it, but only if we change.  We each have the power, the ability to think and act differently, to learn anew if we choose—if we have the courage to do so.


Unless of course we are attached to (and thus constrained by) the notion that human behavior is solely explainable by mechanical causality alone and our purpose is to maximize our material gain. Einstein noted, “a perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.”


We can choose to learn how to participate in creating a different world rather than clinging to a mechanistic view of reality as things out there to be manipulated for one’s own benefit.  If we choose, we can learn to understand our world as an ever evolving and changing interconnected and interdependent world.  I’m not referring here to globalization, which is just a larger machine.


The change is from a mechanistic orientation to a living systems orientation where wholes are parts within wholes; hence the critical need to learn how to learn. Recasting a quote from Alvin Toffler, the ability to endure “will not be defined by those who cannot read, but by those who do not know how to learn.”  If we believe that it is possible that an individual can evolve, then it would be contradictory to regard each other–in thought or action–as having only instrumental value to our own material self-interests.


All that is needed is that we commit to unlearning toward learning a new paradigm. This living systems view of reality shows that we are simultaneously whole entities and a part of a larger whole, that we are deeply interconnected and interdependent.  As a result, our responsibility as human beings is a dual I-We responsibility; we each have a responsibility to our own development and equally to the development of all others.


Moreover, looking through the lens of this living systems paradigm allows us to see that the world is comprised of both the tangible and intangible—life is not merely material cause-and-effect.  Accordingly we as human beings not only need the means to an equal degree we need meaning—ya know those unimportant intangibles.  As previously discussed “this implies that not only do we need our existence as an individual (human) being to be acknowledged by others but also that we experience the love of others.  We need to know that we matter, rather than that we are just matter to be manipulated and used by others.”  But in a highly individualistic and materialistic world the flow of meaning is often obstructed.  No wonder so many don’t experience joy in work!


So not only are we shaped by the relationships we have, we create our reality through our participation with the many living systems with which we are in relationship.  But the nature of the relationships we form is prefigured by the paradigm in use.  Thus to change our reality we need to change the way we relate to each other and our self, and to this end we need to change the paradigm that guides us.


It is time for everyone, especially those in positions of authority to unlearn, making it possible to learn anew.  Not doing so is just plain stupid!  Einstein said it best, “the world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it” and “only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”


Just imagine if there was courage to learn the living systems view of reality and to transcend self-interest how much better we’d all be.  We’d have a different economic system, business leaders would think beyond their bottom-line, politicians would actually serve the people, labor and management would be collaborators in quality and those in positions of authority would use the power of their position to help others.  Just think of the progress we’d realize.

6 thoughts on “What We Know That Ain’t So

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