The foundation of systemic phenomenological work


31 March 2021| Personal

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

One of the questions we were asked a lot, was as follows:

At the beginning of the lockdown, I was hopeful that the world would look better after the COVID-19 outbreak, given the solidarity we saw in our communities. It feels so much harder to hold on to that hope now, for instance because of the rising human toll, the financial problems many people are facing, and the ‘blame games’ being played by many leaders.

How do I adopt a more systemic perspective to these dynamics, and how can I 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, my response to that 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 at ideals to make a better world systemically, we often see that ideals tend to exclude. If you exclude the world that is not better, in other words, you exclude the world as it is.

That puts someone in a position that is separate from the world. Maybe such a desire puts you above the world. This makes it hard to make connections.

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

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

The systemic perspective is a perspective that includes all these differentiations, a perspective that includes ourselves in this world. Actually, the meaning of perspective does not fit into 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 inside 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 previous generations who survived by looking at ‘the best’ and discarding ‘the worst’. This survival mechanism was once effective and has become a pattern which was passed on to later generations. However, the fact that there are later generations is proof that the survival mechanism was successful and is no longer necessary! It is time to live!

When the survival mechanism was necessary, there was often a traumatic event. Some aspects of trauma are fragmentation and stasis. This means that you can be drawn into a traumatic situation in the past by a situation in the now. These can be 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 times’. When people hope and long for the time ‘when we can do everything again’, this longing is focused on what was once possible and now is not. ‘Like we could in the old times…’, but in the meantime we are a year on, and we cannot erase this year. We have experienced so much, we have learned so much, we developed so much! We are now torn between allowing what will forever be different or holding on to was once was.

The hardest part is that we don’t know what ‘different’ will look like; it is not tangible.

Leaders give us something to hold onto. 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 us something to hold onto. Then you feel the herd around you again, you feel you belong, and that makes you feel safe. I suspect it is that primal instinct that makes many people follow leaders, much less than the promises that those leaders make.

To look systemically, is to take in all of history and the current situation as simply facts that have happened and are happening. To let go of the illusion that we can change what has happened. To allow ourselves to absorb this complete history without wanting to change anything about it. And then to turn our backs on the past, and open the door to 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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About the Bert Hellinger Institute

People are constantly evolving. With each other, without each other. In families, in teams, in organizations. Systemic thinking makes us aware of the “why” of our being and doing. Organizational and family constellations create room for movement. The BHI provides courses, workshops and training programs in the field of systemic work, constellations, leadership and coaching. This is how we contribute to the development of people, organizations and society.

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