The foundation of systemic phenomenological work


31 March 2021| Personal

How do I take a more systemic perspective on these worldwide dynamics?

A common question we were asked:

At the beginning of the lock-down, I was hopeful that the world would look better after the Covid 19 outbreak, given the solidarity we saw in our communities. That hope feels so much more harder to sustain this far in, with i.a. the deteriorating human toll, financial misery of many and ‘blame games’ being played by many leaders.

How do I take a more systemic perspective on these dynamics and personally stay on track to make this world a (slightly) better place?

Bibi commented:

My attention first lingered on your last words: ‘to make this world a (slightly) better place’.

Well then my response would be too short for a blog.

One of the assumptions of the systemic perspective is: change starts with taking the world as it is. ‘A better world’ implies that the world is not good.

When we look systemically at ideals to make a better world, we often see that ideals tend to exclude. To exclude the world that is not better, so to exclude the world as it is.

And that puts someone in a position that is separate from the world. Maybe such a desire puts you above the world. Then it’s hard to make connections.

When you talk about ‘this world’; how many worlds are there? Now I sense an interesting connection to your question. ‘This world’ and ‘systemic perspective’.

We can see the world from many different perspectives and then we will see different worlds. A world from the perspective of someone who has lost work and income, from the perspective of the health care system trying to manage and control this pandemic, from the perspective of busy working people who have suddenly been cut out of their controlled daily rhythm, and so on, all completely different worlds.

The systemic perspective is a perspective that includes all the differentiations, a perspective that includes ourselves in this world. Actually, the meaning of perspective does not fit systemic thinking, because perspective has the connotation of looking at the world. The systemic way of looking is phenomenological: being open to what is coming at us and even ín us. We cannot exclude ourselves from the world; we are part of what is happening now, what has happened in the past, and what will happen in the future.

When life flows smoothly, this way of being is not so difficult, but when life confronts us with a lot of uncertainty, we human beings have the tendency to hope for the best. Hope as stronghold.

Systemically, hope is often the packaging of an old survival mechanism. The survival mechanism of earlier generations who survived by looking at ‘the best’ and discarding ‘the worst’. This survival was once effective and becomes a pattern passed on to later generations. But the fact that there are later generations is proof that survival was successful and is no longer necessary! Time to live!

When survival was necessary, there was often a traumatic event. And some aspects of trauma are fragmentation and stasis of time.

Meaning, one can be drawn into a traumatic situation in the past by a situation now. Sometimes traumatic situations from generations ago, from our ancestors or the history of our country for example.

Hope often seems to be based on longing for ‘the old’. When people hope and long for the time ‘when everything is allowed again’, the longing is focused on that which once was possible and now is not. ‘As of old’… but in the meantime we are a year on and this year we cannot erase. So much we have experienced, so much we have learned, so much development! We are now in the tension of allowing what will forever be different, or holding on to the old.

The hardest part of this is that we don’t know what that ‘different’ will look like, we can’t hold on to it.

Leaders give hold. When people experience that a leader does have an answer to this unknown, and certainly when that answer has associations with what we know from the past, that leader gives a hold. Then you feel the herd around you again, you belong somewhere, that gives you a safe feeling. I suspect it is that primal instinct that makes many people follow leaders and much less what those leaders promise.

To look systemically is to take in all of history and the present situation as simply facts that have happened and are happening. Giving up the illusions that we can change what happened. Allowing ourselves to be fed by this complete history without wanting to change anything about it. Then turn our back on the past, opening the door for life. Then ‘our life’ can meet ‘Life’. Opening ourselves to what life wants from us.


“who is without hope,

has everything.”

Bert Hellinger

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