The foundation of systemic phenomenological work


31 January 2023| Maatschappelijk, Societal

Timeless in the WE

The ‘We’ is a desire from the personal conscience; ‘we’ means I belong somewhere. But as soon as you talk about ‘we’, it actually immediately activates ‘them’, or ‘you’; those who do not belong to ‘us’. ‘We’ has boundaries. Beyond it is ‘you’, or ‘them’. I am not one of them. With ‘you’ I am still in contact, from my safe ‘we’, but ‘them’, I do know less, or with them I don’t want to be in contact.

And what if we stretch those boundaries of the ‘we’, so far, that there is no more ‘you’, that there is not even a ‘they’?

Then all sorts of alarm bells go off in my body and mind: “That’s scary, too big, dangerous!” When I imagine that I am part of a ‘we’ to which everything on earth belongs, I feel very small, but at the same time very included. Like when I look at a brilliant starry sky on a pitch-dark night. And yet, and yet.

At such a moment, the three systemic forces are tug-of-war in me. In Me? Or in We?

Certainly in me there are fears that I am snowed under in so much greatness, that I have no idea how to contribute to that greatness. But also no idea how to behave in order to belong to that All.

When I imagine that everyone belongs to that great ‘We’, no matter how they behave, I immediately feel protest inside: “But that can’t be, then everyone will just live on their own way! Should I then allow all sorts of people to do all sorts of things I can’t live with?”

So this is typically the reaction of the survival mechanism we call the personal (or unit-) conscience. These thoughts make it feel safer to behave in such a way that I belong to a ‘We’ which I can oversee, within which I dare to trust. This natural urge to belong to something also creates a ‘We’; this is the glue and basis of the existence of groups or systems.

Within me, too, voices can be heard warning me of missteps. Voices that let me know how I can trust a small group, but never everyone. Voices that want to keep me from not belonging anymore if I just stretch the boundaries: “we have to guard our culture and you can’t just let that go!” The voices of the ‘We’ speak in and through me.

So this is also that survival mechanism of unity: the belonging of the parts allows a system to emerge, and that serves survival. A unity with fixed forms and boundaries.

The norms and values, the customs, the culture shape the system to which we say ‘we’. And that form clearly indicates what belongs and what does not. Based on those norms and customs, situations and people are excluded that ‘we’ cannot live with.

And then the system conscience intervenes.

When it comes to ‘us’, the system conscience has a different perspective. This unconscious force is precisely trying to stretch the boundaries so that all the people and events that once belonged to this system are really ‘us’ and belong to us … But even then it is about our system, a system where things are different from your system.

Systemic thinking and working has already brought a lot of connection by making conscious this unconscious force of including what was excluded.

It gave more insight into wholes, it gave possibilities to bring fragmented systems back together, it gave insights how to get beyond polarization, it gave again -or maybe for the first time- the feeling of being whole.

So ‘being able to live with something’ always means excluding a lot of what life brings us.

That enormous evolutionary force -Life- which is often perceived as too overwhelming, does not care about boundaries. If you allow yourself to be taken by that force, you will definitely get past boundaries, into unknown situations. Unsuspected too and unpredictable.

Just writing the word unpredictable, I feel in my body that the personal conscience is already bracing itself. “Yes, but” I then feel inside.

This is how the personal or unit conscience tries to protect me from unpredictability. It tries to protect against all the calamities that life has in store and against losing whatever certainties you currently have …

And then comes a conference titled ‘Timeless in the We’.

Even harder my personal conscience goes on the defensive! “Stretching the boundaries for a while, okay, but forever? And letting the sense of time slip too?” The personal conscience arrives with some judgements just to make it clear what can belong and what especially cannot.

And yet, I also feel something shining, something coming towards me and drawing my attention away from all the protesting within. Something unknown not only comes towards me, but also attracts me. A movement takes me and I feel as I feel when I look at that infinite starry sky: void and included in the boundless unknown …

Bibi Schreuder

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