We Are Not the Enemy! Thoughts on Habits and the Challenge of “Enlightenment”–or of being a Systems Thinker
Lorraine Filipek, Ph.D., Volume 2. Issue 3. September 16, 2013
Abstract: Why do we do what we do? How do we explain our presently polarized nation/world and our equally polarized selves? Can we get out of this mess? If so, how? The following is a set of stories based on concepts from complexity and systems theory that help answer those questions for me. I consider them in the vein of “practical application of systems thinking.” They trace the evolution of the intertwined system of culture and human consciousness that got us to where we are now. They are stories of the deep attractor basins within that system, ranging from the small but deeply ingrained habits at the individual level to the overarching habits of culture. But they are also stories of emergence out of those basins. And, to me, the stories reveal a path that can lead us beyond our present polarization–a path being trail blazed by a growing number of Systems Thinkers from all walks of life. The stories are constructed out of my understanding of complex adaptive systems, learning, habits, mourning, and emotional hardiness/ resilience. They come from a personal perspective, using my own journey and my interpretation of the works and journeys of a number of complexity and systems theorists, psychologists, cognitive scientists, philosophers, theologians, and many others. Each of these authors has taken a different path, but all appear to have emerged with a similar Systems Thinking perspective. It is a perspective that honors all perspectives, embraces those who “are not the enemy,” and listens to their stories for their kernel of truth.
Introduction: Sensitivities and the Problem of Ingrained Habits
I have been a scientist most of my life, and have been increasingly guided by my interest in complexity theory. I have also been fascinated by the study of consciousness and culture, how they co-evolve, and why people do what we do. But, as a scientist, I found myself experiencing frustration reading certain spiritually oriented authors supposedly dedicated to helping raise consciousness. I felt that they wrongly denigrated all science as being reductionist, shallow, and full of hubris. I felt that they intimated that no one could grow to “enlightenment” through science. I wanted to scream out to them, “No! Science as I know it is not reductionist! Nonlinear dynamics and emergence concepts led me to the inner path and spirit! No! Science is not the enemy!”
Because I felt that the more “spiritual” authors demeaned my profession and my life’s work, I began to concentrate on the more “scientific” journals that discussed consciousness. However, one day while reading one of those journals, I came upon a letter written by a clergyman. He was dismayed that “people (who write for the journal)…seem to need to bring down religion to make their point.” He wrote, “I want to yell back, ‘No! Religion as I know it is not an empty shell! …No! Religion as I know it is not simply about dogma!’” He ended with the plea that we “look for the similarities in our interests and practices…Yes, let’s join together. We are not the enemy.”
The Reverend had my same reaction in reverse! Were the Reverend and I being too sensitive, or was there something more going on—or both? I decided to reread the article to which the Reverend was referring in his letter–an article written by an eminent systems theorist. When I first read the article, as someone who had given my life to the profession of science, I had agreed with it wholeheartedly because it fit my experience. Perhaps the Reverend was being too sensitive, since the whole purpose of the article was to make us aware of the positive changes in values and consciousness that are “occur(ing) in all segments of society.” But when I tried to read the article from the perspective of someone who had given their life to the religious profession, I was surprised at what I found. I had the same reaction as the Reverend!
From that perspective, it seemed to me that the systems theorist had written the article for those who had taken a path similar to his—those who had followed science. He argued that the cutting edge of science has evolved toward “a holistic way of thinking about the world”–what I call the emergence paradigm (more on that later). However, he failed to acknowledge how the cutting edge of religion had also similarly evolved. He actually implied that it had not happened by stating that “a reconciliation between inner-directed spirituality and organized religion is not impossible” rather than that it has, in fact, already occurred at the cutting edge of many religions.
By his unfortunate word choice, the systems theorist separated the great religious thinkers whom he discussed from “religion,” even as he included the cutting edge thinkers of science as “science.” I believe that, had he read an article that had stated the same things in reverse—showed how the cutting edge of religion had evolved and suggested that a conciliation of “emergence concepts and science is not impossible,” he would have been just as dismayed as the Reverend was with his article–and as I had been in my interpretation of certain spiritual writers.
I do not mean to disparage the systems theorist, whom I respect highly. I am also in complete accord with what I perceive was his intended message. My point is that even the most well-meaning, enlightened writer can have an effect opposite to that intended just by his word choice, when his words are read by someone primed to expect an attack on their beliefs or values. And both the unfortunate actual choice of words, as well as the negative response they engendered, are probably due to an ingrained pattern—an insidious, unconscious habit of mind; a dysfunctional attractor in the brain. That unconscious habit propels people into opposing camps without our even being aware of it, and throws us into blinding combat mode, so that we miss the truths in the other’s perspective. Instead, we enter into a dark dance of mutual mistrust that can spiral to animosity. I see this pattern in many people, including “enlightened” writers and supposed Systems Thinkers, as well as their audiences. And, as you’ve probably already noticed, I’ve exhibited the same pattern myself. I now see how I may have been mistaken in my interpretation of the spiritual writers’ message.
We are all susceptible to this unconscious pattern of reductionism and dualistic thinking, even though most of us discuss the behavior with disdain. From my observations, the pattern is especially prevalent in people of my generation (I am a Baby Boomer) and older. We (Boomers and older) were born into a time when the dualistic pattern was everywhere. It was ingrained into us from birth and it bred into most of us a sense of insecurity—we look for validation through the praise of those in authority. We think we’re not good enough unless we’re better than someone else. We have to prove our worth by proving the other wrong. We automatically take sides and look for the smallest flaws or missteps in the “opponent’s” argument—all before we consciously realize it. It is a very difficult pattern to overcome unless we are constantly mindful of it. To take the systems theorist and the Reverend off the hook, I’ll use myself as the example1 for the rest of this discussion. I’d like to tell another story to try to explain how we got into this mess and what we can do to get out of it.
A Story to Explain How We Got Here: The Evolution of Consciousness and Culture
Once upon a time, the Cosmos/Goddess/God gave birth to the world and Life sprang forth. Then, over the millennia, humans and culture have been evolving together in an intertwined dance through levels or stages of consciousness2—from the Physical and Emotional Child through the Conformist Pre-teen to the Rational Adolescent, the Existentialist Youth, and eventually to the Integrating Adult and beyond. At each stage (both as individuals and as a culture), we must learn new skills and develop new abilities and habits (develop new attractors) before we can move on to the next stage. This learning process forms new neural pathways and eventually restructures the complex adaptive system of the brain enough that the next stage emerges. And, as important as learning the new skills and stories is, all the more important is successfully giving up old, now ineffectual stories/habits (dissolving old attractors) and successfully mourning their loss. The mourning process is an emotional unlearning that follows the same steps as learning and reduces no-longer useful neural connections that had developed in prior stages. Unless we successfully complete this process, the old habits keep re-emerging when we least expect or want them, especially during times of stress.
As we progress through the stages of consciousness, we expand our range of understanding. Throughout history, very few people have had sufficient hardiness/resilience that they could reach much beyond the consciousness level of the surrounding culture. Throughout most of history, that culture has been dualistic—seeing only opposites, as in black/white, good/bad, either/or, top/bottom, man/woman, or science/religion. The dualistic cultural paradigm, by its very nature, teaches dualism to all lower stages and exerts a strong negative feedback on growth beyond dualism. If children are taught to see only black and white, that’s what they will see—even though they are fully capable of seeing the full spectrum of colors. If they are raised to be hardy and are taught to value diversity, complexity, and both the inner and outer worlds, they will see rainbows—both literally and figuratively.
Early in our existence, Child-like hunter-gatherer and horticultural humans learned the patterns of the plants, animals, and seasons and called on a myriad of spirits for protection, representing them in sculpture and painting. The average life span was about 25 years. Children went directly from Childhood to the duties of an adult. Myths of the group’s history flourished. Children of different epochs and cultures have learned different concepts—different patterns, habits, and values (different attractors). At the individual level, then as now, the dance between caregiver and young child forms the child’s first habits and is crucial in developing the child’s hardiness skills–the ability to handle difficulties, cope with disappointments, and thrive on change. Hardiness skills are best developed if the child’s individual need for security is balanced with its equally individual need for stimulation and growth. Early in our existence, hardiness was necessary to stay alive; now, it’s necessary to grow normally through the stages of consciousness.
After the Great Flood and the development of writing, Conformist Pre-teen Westerners turned away from images to written rules and a patriarchal God in the heavens to answer our need for understanding. At this time in ancient culture the sexes became highly polarized and the deity figures changed from both sexes to almost exclusively male-oriented. This was a time of extreme dualism, patriarchy, and tribalism—my tribe against your tribe—and the beginning of the first great empires. At the individual level, now as in the past, what the Conformist Pre-teen thinks is “right” and what kinds of groups she belongs to depend on her upbringing to this point–whether she’s learned the dualistic pattern of win/lose, either/or or the non-dualistic pattern of win/win, both/and to deal with conflicts. The pattern becomes “hard-wired” in the brain long before the child understands its meaning. If she has learned dualistic patterns, she will assume dualistic roles and have dualistic values—she’ll try to be part of an “in” group and shun and look down on those in the “out” group. If she is hardy and has learned win/win patterns, she will be more open to interaction with a variety of individuals and groups.
Later, throughout the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Industrial Revolution, the Rational Adolescent Newtonian physics of linear phenomena became our framework. We thought everything worked like clockwork and could be explained by simple cause and effect. Recently, as linear science taught us more and more, many Youthful humans felt we could answer our own questions without the need for a God or Goddess. But then many of us got tripped up in existential anguish when it came to our need to know “Why?”
Rational Adolescence: Cycles of History
Until the Renaissance, the Western world had been dominated by religion. Most people never learned how to reason. The invention of the printing press brought reading to the masses and helped usher in cultural Adolescence—the age of logic and rational science. The two dominant forces of religion and science are the prime examples of how, throughout much of the historical past, the Western world has been dominated by dualities. (Actually, so has the East, but that’s another story…) In the West, this dualism has produced alternating cycles of dominance and reaction in which one half of a duality pair, such as science or religion, mind or body, logic or intuition, individualism or community, prevailed.
Since the Western world entered its Rational Adolescent stage, our generational patterns have shown this cyclical duality—each generation a reaction to the preceding generations. At the individual level, the Rational Adolescent is still a conformist. However, by now peers have become his primary group because the Rational Adolescent has come to realize that his parents and teachers do not know everything and are not always right. This discovery brings with it a newfound sense of the self and one’s own abilities in comparison to his parents’. The person at this stage tends to think he knows it all: “I think, therefore I am right.” It is often the age of rebellion against parents—when one may become a “Rebel without a[n obvious] Cause.” The Rational Adolescent thinks about the values he had learned earlier and criticizes them, but he is still controlled by his emotions—he reacts.
This Rational Adolescent reaction against parents has been studied by historians and economists William Strauss and Neil Howe (1997), who looked at history from a systems perspective. They found essentially the same four-stage generational reaction cycle in Western history since the Renaissance that C.S. Holling (1987) described for ecosystems—the same cycle of growth, maturation, decay, and rebirth that the Earth experiences annually. In fact, Strauss and Howe used the four seasons as metaphors for these four stages: Spring is the High, summer the Awakening, autumn the Unraveling, and winter the Crisis. They have shown that this 80- to 100-year cycle forms four successive generations with different cultures, lifestyles, and values. Since the Renaissance, generations have alternated between two extremes in each of two dimensions. The first dimension is spiritual vs. physical/material, or inward- vs. outward-directed. The second is the individual vs. the community, or self- vs. society-oriented.3 Approximately every 40 years a new generation comes along that is the other half of the double duality that appeared 40 years earlier.
According to Strauss and Howe, each generation is born, grows up, and attains power in a different part of the cycle, which produces an archetype unique to that stage: The Prophet (e.g. Baby Boomer), born in the High, is an inward-directed, self-oriented moralist who wants to create a new value system. The Nomad (Generation X), born in the Awakening, is an outward-directed, self-oriented pragmatic loner in a harsh world. The Hero (the GI Generation and the Millennials), born in the Unraveling, is an outward-directed, society-oriented hubristic foot soldier who wants to be king. And the Artist (the Silent Generation and those being born right now), born during the Crisis, is an inward-directed, society-oriented sensitive helpmate who works within the system.
Existentialist Youth: The Legacy of the Twentieth Century
The twentieth century erupted as a period of profound conflict and change. Western civilization was in a period of dualities as it had been throughout recorded history. The Industrial Revolution had spawned Rational Adolescent haves and Conformist Childhood have-nots. God was dead to the elite and the intelligentsia, and they took His place. Science—the “objective” study of reality—and technology were considered the new gospel. The children of the Nomad Robber Barons flaunted their wealth, while the next-cycle Nomad workers of the Lost Generation on whom that wealth depended became more and more restless. For the rational Modernists, the machine was king. For the romantic Arts and Crafts Movement, human handiwork was all-important. Adolescent rulers felt omnipotent and engaged in intense rivalries. Political tensions escalated in Europe due to empire building and finally erupted in World War I.
In the 1920s and 1930s, art and technology continued to develop and a significant number of the intelligentsia entered the Existentialist Youth stage of consciousness—the stage of quantum physics and Picasso’s multiple viewpoints. Social tensions continued after WW I and ultimately fueled a Second World War. Cultural Adolescence was feeling its rush of new hormones. Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and other Fascist dictators and those in high command were probably mostly in the Adolescent stage; whereas many of their followers were still in the Conformist Childhood stage. Many had suffered during the world depression of the 1930s and so were all too willing to find scapegoats for their anger.
After WW II, from the late 1940s until the fall of the Berlin wall, the world was split into two dueling camps—capitalism and communism. These camps were presided over by two Adolescent Superpowers—the United States and the Soviet Union—whose powers stemmed from their ability to annihilate the entire world with the push of a button. In the 1950s, the United States set trends as the dominant capitalist nation. The GI and the Silent company man went to work in a Modernist skyscraper or factory and the wife stayed home with the kids in Levittown suburbia. Those GIs who fought in WW II were mainly those who grew up during the depression in the 1930s. The time after WW II became for them a time to gain security. It was a time of conservative traditional values and the generation of wealth. The post-war era generated a new middle class—the largest in history. Houses, cars, and televisions became the symbols of prosperity. College education for the GIs’ children became another such symbol…
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a cultural revolution occurred in the United States and brought with it a series of rifts. The Silent Generation was the first in history to attend college in significant numbers and produce a significant number of Youths—the Beatniks, who had discovered existentialism. Those Youths became the first of the sensitive Artist generations not to be risk-averse. Civil rights became a major issue in the US thanks to Silent Generation Blacks such as Martin Luther King, Jr., who found their voice. Silent Generation women such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem gave voice to women’s concerns.
Thus, in the second half of the twentieth century, with an increasing percentage of college graduates, Western culture entered its Existentialist Youth stage–a time of multiple perspectives and the birth of systems theory. However, both the Boomer Youths and those of the Silent Generation before them had been raised in a dualistic culture and bore its scars when they developed multiple perspectives and saw a leveled playing field. They reacted to their dualistic culture in many different ways depending on a complex interaction of at least three factors: their genetic predispositions, on which half of the duality they had been raised to regard themselves, and exactly when and where in cultural history they grew up.
Some of the Silent Generation who had been raised to be on top but who had also grown up with the Holocaust and Hiroshima rejected the linear scientific paradigm. Out of habit, however, they then used its methods in a deconstructionist diatribe to give expression to their anger and despair. They logically criticized the excesses, but had no hope. Without hope, they offered little in terms of positive change.
Others raised on the bottom (and a few who felt guilty for being raised on the top) went to the opposite extreme in their desire to find balance. Rather than going beyond the linear logic of Modernism, some abandoned logic and rationality altogether because they equated it with the dominance paradigm. Unquestioning belief in New Age or Goddess religions and an unquestioning reliance on alternative medicine (the other extreme from unquestioning reliance on “Western” medicine) are some of the pre-Modernist reactions—intuition without the accompanying logic. Still others raised on the bottom flocked to the environmental movement. They wanted to save “the other”–in their case, save the environment from people. Many neglected to include saving “self” (i.e. people) in the bargain.
The majority of those who had been raised to be on top (mainly white men) continued in Modernism’s linear and dualistic footsteps. They considered the multiple perspectives and increased playing field of the 1970’s (i.e. the increasing opportunities for women and minorities) to be a positive challenge—“More players makes my win that much sweeter.” Many of these became scientific, business, financial, and political Superstars. Their symbols of success were money, power, and prestige. The Chicago School of Economics and Libertarianism are both products of this type of individualistic Existentialist Youth thinking. Some who had been raised to be on the bottom (including myself) had a love/hate relationship with authority and tried to mimic our prior dominators. We worked for equal opportunity to become dominating Superstars.
Only the healthiest members appropriated the techniques of logic and concern for “self” from those on the top and the intuition and concern for “other” felt by those on the bottom. They used both skills to work for rights for themselves and others. Many of the members of the civil rights and women’s movements were healthy Youths in an unhealthy world. Similarly, Youthful systems theorists sought a middle way between dualities, especially in business organizations. The concepts of marketing, stakeholders, and even democracy were all “middle ground” concepts designed to mediate dualities (Wm. Smith, personal communication).
The Age of Superstars: Climax of the Linear Paradigm
The Western cultural revolution begun in the ‘60s was largely fuelled by technology—first television and then computers and the Internet. In the past 40 years, we have changed from an industrial society to a post-industrial, global information age. By the 1970s and through the 1990s, with the rapid growth in higher education, American culture had entered the Existentialist Youth stage—but it is a Youth stage struggling with its dualistic roots.
We all have a need for self-esteem and the esteem of others. In a dualistic win/lose culture entering Youth, esteem becomes a dominant goal. In an ironic twist, the Silent Generation deconstructionist writers and philosophers became Superstars by removing the authority of others. The early Boomers, the first wave of the present Prophet generation, born between about 1946 and the early-1950s, also had grown up in a very dualistic culture and had been taught to respect authority. As Youths, many of the early Boomers developed a love/hate relationship with authority similar to the slightly older Silent Generation’s love/hate relationship with “the other”—the early Boomers were idealistic, but also had a strong need to prove themselves worthy of their parents’ oft-mentioned sacrifices for them. Many opposed the Vietnam War with ferocity and fought to stop poverty and hunger in developing countries by zealously pushing concepts such as “Zero Population Growth.” When they later entered business and the professions, they were driven with the same fierce zeal. They became workaholics and made the 60- to 80-hour workweek the new standard. They strived to be Superstars in their chosen field.
The “late” Boomers were too young to be affected by Vietnam and grew up in a somewhat more gender- and race-neutral culture—thanks to the Silent Generation and the early Boomers before them. They also had been given more material possessions as children than their older siblings and felt an even stronger sense of entitlement. A significantly larger percentage of the late (about a quarter of the generation) than early Boomers went to college and many became Existentialist Youths in the process. They were determined not to be like their older brothers and sisters. They expected to earn large salaries without the long hours put in by the early Boomers and were more interested in having a family life with children. For their beliefs, they earned the title of the Me Generation and led the way for the Generation Xers to follow.
Strauss and Howe’s Unraveling began as the Me Generation and Gen Xers entered the workforce. There they collided with American business, which was entering its own Existentialist Youth stage—an entry required by the birth of the Information Age. From the late 1970s through the present, the humanism shown in the new Postmodern facades of corporate buildings masked the breakdown at the same time of the implied social contract between the company as Parent and its employees as Children. Now, in this individualistic age, it was every company, man, and woman for themself. Long-time employees were laid off en masse as companies began to “downsize” in order to be more competitive in a rapidly changing economic climate. First to go were the mostly Conformist Child and Rational Adolescent blue-collar workers in rust belt steel and automotive industries. The next wave removed mainly Adolescent and Youthful white-collar middle managers. Now we are seeing the demise of other “professionals”—educators, scientists, engineers,… The hardiest of the laid-off workers successfully mourned their losses and moved into the next higher stage of consciousness. Many of those who were unsuccessful (often because they were busy trying just to survive) regressed into a lower or more embittered stage of consciousness.
Within this same individualistic Youthful business paradigm, the “middle ground” concept of systems theorists, which was meant to mediate difference between dualities, ended up not transcending them, but rather being used to favor one pole–that of the more powerful: The market was meant to be used to create an even playing field between producers and consumers, but instead has been used to distort information to influence buyers to make decisions not on their best long-term interest. Businesses have required customers to sign “arbitration agreements” in order to use their products, in which the customers must use the business’ selected and paid-for arbitrators, rather than truly independent ones, to settle disputes. Even democracy, instead of being a middle ground to sort out differences between all people, has been used to advance the interests of the most influential at the expense of the rest (Wm. Smith, personal communication).
Because of the scars of our dualistic Childhoods, our culture has entered the cyclic Crisis in the midst of an unhealthy Youth stage. We see the evidence of this all around us, from our lack of concern for others and increasing gap between rich Superstars and the rest to our polarizing politics. Now, many of us have become dissatisfied with our life even as we passionately argue the rightness of our choice and the wrongness of those who disagree. (But I’m getting ahead of my story…)
The Story of Emergence—Systems, Paradigms, and Our Old “Friend” (Habits)
This Youth stage has also contributed the seeds of its own transformation—a new story—a way out of dualism I call the emergence paradigm. (Think of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.) Aspects of this paradigm sprouted up in science, art, and theology at about the same time, including nonlinear dynamics (systems, chaos, and complexity theories) and cognitive theory in science, the Great Chain or Nest of Being in religion–and the concept of consciousness stages in psychology. And the paradigm itself has been evolving, with a level of interpretation at each consciousness stage.
In the emergence paradigm, everything—from subatomic particles to molecules, cells, organs, humans, consciousness, cultures, the Earth (Gaia), and ultimately to the entire Cosmos—is considered an evolving complex adaptive system existing within an open-ended, evolving system of complex systems. Each level or “holon,” of this system emerges from the level below. It is a whole in itself and also part of something larger. (Holon comes from the same root as “holistic.”) Each holon has an inner and outer aspect—spirit and matter—and must integrate dualities at its own level in order to survive and grow. This growth involves evolution into more complex, emergent or transcendent higher levels in a process scientists call “self-organization.”
The process of newly emergent order repeats itself at ever more scales and ever-higher orders of organization as the Cosmos and Life evolve. I believe that those who tell the more evolved forms of this story are naturally trying to integrate traditionally different and dueling areas of human culture—especially science vs. religion, left vs. right politics, and the individual vs. the community. However, as in any new paradigm, initial attempts are fraught with problems because people can’t easily forget the old stories.
We are in the midst of the turbulent time of transition from the Existentialist Youth stage of cultural consciousness to that of the Integrating Adult. As we try to make this consciousness macroshift that arose out of the emergence paradigm, we all make mistakes because of previously ingrained patterns of our childhood.
Paradigm is another word for both exemplar and the worldview developed from that exemplar. It’s a story—a set of habits, or patterns, of mind that research in cognitive science suggests is due to the design of our brains. Our present understanding of our brains shows them to be designed specifically to recognize patterns. Our brains are complex neural networks self-organized by our moment-to-moment interactions with the concrete, physical, patterned world around us. In other words, our minds are embodied—they would not be what they are if our bodies and our environments were not the way they are.
Because of this, our individual genetic makeup, as well as how each of us was raised as a child, the time and culture in which each of us grew up, and how we reacted to our upbringing have all combined to shape each of us to act and think automatically in certain particular patterns—deeply ingrained unconscious habits. Thus, certain situations will trigger automatic responses from us before we ever have time to think. We have evolved such instant reactions to help us survive. They are, in a sense, the internalized “rules of the game” for that particular situation. And it requires that we consciously develop a new habit—that of mindfulness—to overcome our ingrained patterns.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing attention and awareness. It is stepping back and observing ourselves and the world non-judgmentally, so that we begin to see our automatic responses—our unconscious habits. It is the most important step in the mourning and healing process that allows us to grow. In systems thinking parlance, mindfulness is what helps us jump off our ladders of inference. (Thankfully, we can be mindful because, just as our minds are embodied, so are our bodies en-minded, or en-spirited—we participate in the material and spiritual Cosmic dance of emergence.)
Howard Margolis (1993) maintains that paradigm shifts require either overcoming a unique, single “barrier” habit of mind or developing a single missing habit of mind in order to bridge a perceptual or conceptual gap. A barrier habit explains why paradigm shifts in any professional field (or culture) are most often made by someone new to that field. That someone is not hampered by pre-existing patterns (old stories and habits–old attractors) or by the fame derived from telling those old stories. The stronger the positive feelings associated with the old story, the less interested the storyteller is in learning a new one.
The same barrier habit explains why many of the early experiments in new technologies and new thinking fail: The experimenters have not completely extricated themselves from the old paradigm barrier habit—they still have an emotional attachment to the old story. For example, the barrier habit in the linear Newtonian paradigm is the dualistic story win/lose, either/or; whereas the emergence paradigm has a non-dualistic win/win, both/and story that favors growth. The Baby Boomers, the Silent Generation, and older generations began developing the concepts of the emergence paradigm, but they had been raised in a dualistic paradigm and have reaped the benefits of fame or fortune from it. We are having trouble overcoming those dualistic habits and the emotions behind them.
Finally, either a single barrier or a single missing habit explains why, during certain periods of history, several people independently “discover” the same new paradigm at essentially the same time. The time is “ripe” for a new story, in that a new generation grew up under different circumstances with different cultural patterns than their parents—circumstances that allowed the younger generation either to not learn their parents’ barrier habit or to learn the missing habit (or both). That’s why I believe, as I wrote earlier, that the cutting edge of all disciplines—science, religion, philosophy, law, art, architecture, economics, politics, agriculture, you name it—has embraced a variant of the emergence paradigm and has done so at about the same time.
The good news from all this is that some young people today—those who were raised in the emergence paradigm and were taught to value diversity—learned the win/win story from Childhood. This story has helped them develop hardiness so that they are accelerating their way through stages of consciousness in a different, healthier, and significantly more rapid fashion than previous generations. Stages that used to be dualistic for people earlier in history (including Boomers) are no longer so for those young people today who “see rainbows.” Thus, in this new story, not only are we evolving higher stages of consciousness for a greater percentage of people, but the lower stages are themselves also evolving and younger people can help their elders grow. There has probably never been a better time to look for the truth in unexpected people and places.
I suggested earlier that, in the story of emergence, the stage after Youth is Integrating Adulthood. In this story, Adults are those who are trying to step beyond their ingrained patterns from prior stages, to examine those patterns, to let go of them, to emerge with an open mind, and to choose their own stories. In that openness comes a natural desire to integrate dualities such as science and spirituality. An Adult tries to be mindful, or, as the late systems scientist and sustainability advocate Donella Meadows (1999) wrote (using the language of her scientific background):
To keep oneself unattached in the arena of paradigms, to stay flexible, to realize that no paradigm is “true,” that every one, including the one that sweetly shapes your own worldview, is a tremendously limited understanding of an immense and amazing universe that is far beyond human comprehension. It is to “get” at a gut level the paradigm that there are paradigms, and to see that that itself is a paradigm, and to regard that whole realization as devastatingly funny. It is to let go into Not Knowing, into what the Buddhists call enlightenment…
Everyone who has managed to entertain that idea for a moment or a lifetime, has found it to be the basis for radical empowerment. If no paradigm is right, you can choose whatever one will help to achieve your purpose. If you have no idea where to get a purpose, you can listen to the universe (or put in the name of your favorite deity here) and do his, her, its will, which is probably a lot better informed than your will.
As Meadows suggests, the most important ability needed to successfully enter Integrated Adulthood is the willingness to give up the identification of oneself with what one did before, to step back and see beyond paradigms. In our polarized Youth society that values wealth and success above all else, the process of emerging into Integrated Adulthood has been different and typically more difficult for many men, especially for the most successful and influential (and for those men and women who aspire to be like them), than for most women and minorities. Until Adulthood, these (mostly) men have spent their lives building their self-esteem, their career, and their individual identity in a competitive race with others. In Adulthood, they must develop their “feminine side”—empathy, compassion, and love for others. They must learn to see the “other” as valid and legitimate,and whose wellbeing is directly connected with their own–rather than as insignificant, lessor, and just an obstacle to overcome or a pawn to use. They need to emotionally grasp the concept of “the Biology of Love” that Maturana and Verden-Zoller (e.g. 2009) have identified as a basic biological attribute of the human species–that we all need to love in order to thrive as individuals and as a species. If they can achieve this, these men will add the traditionally female trait of caring to their traditionally male repertoire. For their part, most women have spent their lives building and nurturing attachments. In Adulthood, they must develop their “masculine side”—concern for themselves. They must find their own separate identity without losing their ability to love others. They must add the traditional traits of men—rights and justice for themselves—to their traditionally female repertoire of caring for others. Thus, in Adulthood, both sexes and all people become more alike and more whole.
Many Adults, such as Meadows herself, have chosen the story of emergence over that of dualism, while continually experimenting and trusting their gut in search of an even better story. They have done so because they value hope, diversity, and the fullness and unfolding of Life in all its forms. With it, they have been naturally integrating science and religion, left and right, the individual and community … But they still have to work at finding a mode of communication that shows respect for those who came along a different path than theirs.
The process of developing the skills of Adulthood is long, arduous, and wrought with trial-and-error. It is truly an epic and often-painful journey because unlearning old patterns and mourning their loss is hard. This is especially true when one is trying to overcome a barrier habit. In this light, I’d like to mention my own quest and the circumstances surrounding it.
My Personal Story
Once upon a time (in the early/mid-twentieth century), I and many others were born both into a religion and into a belief that science and technology were progress. As was the paradigm of the times, when we were of an age to choose a career path, we had to choose one side of the science/religion duality. The choice was often triggered by a strongly emotional event. I was a fervent Catholic when I was young. When I learned about the negative aspects of the Catholic Church and its history—the Spanish Inquisition, the witch trials, the pain of watching families struggle and children starve because birth control is not allowed—I abandoned religion and turned to science to save the world. I tried to ignore the crueler aspects of science—the atomic bomb, mutilations and painful testing on animals, technological “accidents” such as Bhopal—that turned many others against science as the major evil in the world.
Either choice—science or religion—had a grain of truth. But each had something missing. As I and others embarked on our careers and life paths, we entered the first stage of mourning for our loss—numbness and emotional denial. We lived without thought or feeling for that half of us that we had given up (or else we compartmentalized the two halves so that they wouldn’t interfere with each other).4
Eventually, as we lived with our choice, many of us became uncomfortable with it. We entered the second stage of mourning—emotional awareness. This stage brought with it anxiety, anger, protest, guilt, a very upset gut… Because it lacked something, either choice brought with it a strong desire to convince others—and especially ourselves—that ours was the right choice. Some highly respected scientists have tried to do so by using reductionist logic to show that religious or spiritual impulses are just the products of endorphins and other chemicals in our brains. Some highly respected religious philosophers have countered that only prayer and contemplation will save us because science, including the emergence paradigm, is trying to replace spirit with the material world. I swung from one extreme to the other, as does a pendulum, in my search for balance. I tried out the stories of each group. Both seemed almost right, but neither quite fit; both constricted my gut.
When my gut hurt so much that I no longer wanted to get up in the morning, I reached my tipping point. I left my lucrative partnership in an environmental-science consulting firm. I went back to school to learn to design architecture that heals the spirit. I read and read and read…and I gardened and walked and dreamed and “rescued” a feral kitten (or should I be honest and say she rescued me with her need and her love). I learned through the pain that it is only when I recognized the truths and limitations of both sides that I could achieve true integration and balance. A few years later, I am doing some of both worlds. I love my new life—and I have a powerful urge to tell stories… But I find that it’s still very hard to find the right choice of words—to always acknowledge the truths of both sides, especially (because of my earlier choice) the side of organized religion. (It’s taking lots of exposure to an Adult friend who is both a scientist and a practicing Catholic who works for constructive change within the Church.) I believe most people who have struggled with dualism in Childhood and Youth have the same problem—as, it appears, does the systems theorist in the introduction, and probably also the Reverend. His sensitivity to the issue, like mine, suggests so.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I believe that many of those who argue the strongest for “their” side are working their way through the mourning process. They may be ripe to enter the next stage of mourning. They need “only” to become mindful–to step back and let go of their identity as “scientist” or “theologian” (or “liberal” or “conservative” or whatever), so that they can accept the truths in the other’s stance and then integrate the best of both. Entering the tipping point is giving up, at least temporarily, everything you have believed in until now, everything you identify with, everything that made you famous: “Just die and you will be reborn…” This is not easy! Your whole world collapses.
I also believe that the best way to help each other–and ourselves–enter this tipping point is not to say that anybody was wrong. That plays into our Childhood dualistic, win/lose training and backs us into the proverbial corner, where we fight all the harder. Rather, it is to gently ask questions and learn how we are all partly right—you, me, and the person down the street. It is to engage in true dialectic—in mindful questioning and discussion, not winner-take-all debate. We need to enlarge our own and each other’s perspectives, not destroy them. And to give each other–and ourselves–the emotional support that allows one’s own cognitive and spiritual dissonance to do the rest. We all need to see rainbows, not black and white, to weather this storm!
The most famous likely have the most difficulty even entering this storm because they feel they have the most to lose. Some of us less famous fall fairly easily into the storm, but then get stuck. With the storm come disorganization, withdrawal, despair, sadness, and helplessness. We can become pessimistic if we don’t see a way out. We must learn to take yet the next step—to listen to our spirit and befriend our most painful feelings, to develop our own inner strength, to experiment, to trust in the process, to build our own story.
For especially hardy souls, this growth process goes relatively smoothly. For most, we become stuck for a while in one or another stage depending on our life history and our personality. Some of us get stuck in denial, others in anger, yet others in despair and pessimism. And most of us born into dualities still get stuck after our “rebirth.”
The catch is that once we’ve “emerged” into Adulthood (or any other stage), it’s not just smooth sailing. We have to consciously practice the new behaviors until they replace the old habits. We still encounter lots of smaller tipping points. The same sequence of learning a new skill or habit and unlearning an old one occurs within each stage, just as each stage is itself a new skill—self-similar processes at different scales—patterns within patterns and stories within stories. To quote again from Donella Meadows (1999):
There are no cheap tricks to mastery. You have to work at it, whether that means rigorously analyzing a system or rigorously casting off your own paradigms and throwing yourself into the humility of Not Knowing. In the end, it seems that power has less to do with pushing leverage points than it does with strategically, profoundly, madly letting go.
If we can all begin this difficult task at every scale—to mourn what we’ve lost, to let go of our identities and our paradigms, to embrace those who “are not the enemy,” and to listen to their stories for their kernel of truth—humanity may begin to understand the journey of Life in a new and more profound way. As both the systems theorist and the Reverend attest, many have already done so. And each has come upon this journey from a different path, with different strengths and weaknesses, carrying the baggage of their childhood and culture.
Each of the diverse walks of life—the sciences, arts, religions, and philosophies of the world—grasps a thread of truth, a piece of the Tapestry of Life. As we weave the threads together, we begin to see more of this complex story, and the path becomes clearer. At the same time, we realize how much more there is yet to learn. And that we can all learn and grow from discovering the complementary truths of others. The challenges—for us all—are to stay mindful, respect the paths of others, and embrace emergence.
Our particular challenges as systems scientists,as well as systemic suggestions for meeting them, were beautifully outlined by Alexander Laszlo in his 2012 presidential address for the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS):
… the next stage of the [Systems] Movement will focus on systems consciousness and systems being. Far from precluding areas of systemic endeavor that tend toward more quantitative, symbolic, or pragmatic concerns, this focus asks all systems scientists to move toward truly living their vocation. The challenge of our times is to cultivate the requisite relational intelligence to allow us to embody and enact into the world the systems we so brilliantly describe and create…–embody them as dynamically intertwingled living systems in our own right.
… our patterns of being and becoming now need to match the patterns and processes of ecosystemic meta-stability found in nature and the cosmos at large. But for this, we must abandon our ego-centric conceptions of self. We must no longer look out at the world through the eyes of exclusively individual interests. And above all, we must be ready to repudiate our gladiatorial existence and learn what it means to be a communal being. To commune with ourselves, with each other, with nature, with past and future possibilities… We must become Homo Sapiens cosmicus – capable of manifesting both our mundane individuality and our sacred connectivity as part and whole at one and the same time.
Laszlo goes on to offer suggestions for “’curating the conditions for emergence’ along pathways of thrivability that are life affirming, future creating and opportunity increasing”—suggestions for how we can develop a “systemic framework of relational intelligence that consciously nurtures super-coherence in our societal systems, and coherence at the individual level of our psycho-emotional selves” to work within ourselves and together to become Homo Sapiens cosmicus (or, in the language of my stories, Integrating Adults, both individually and as a culture).
We are in the midst of turbulent times of global proportions. We are in a race for our lives—will we destroy ourselves and our world or will we and our culture transcend to the desperately needed consciousness of the Integrating Adult? The process of developing the skills of Adulthood—of being a truly cosmic Systems Thinker—is long, arduous, and wrought with trial and error. It is truly an epic and often painful journey. But it’s a necessary journey if we are to avert global disaster. I wish us all well on our way. May our paths meet in an emergent, integrated new world!
1. In an earlier version of this introductory story, I fell into the same dualistic trap that I was writing about! Thankfully, Charles Gregory, one of the reviewers, noticed and gently helped me tell the story in a more balanced way.
2. I look at the co-evolution of culture and human consciousness as the evolving interactions of a highly complex adaptive system. In my explorations, I’ve integrated several authors’ viewpoints with my own knowledge of systems. I am most familiar with the works of the following writers on consciousness and culture–mostly psychologists (in the order in which I first met their work): Teilhard de Chardin, Abraham Maslow, Carol Gilligan, Clifford Anderson, Allan Combs, Ken Wilber, Jenny Wade, Clare Graves (through Don Beck and Christopher Cowan), and James Fowler. My discussion here is very simplified, due to the necessity of summarizing many peoples’ and books’ worth of insights on the history of the intertwined system of individuals and culture into a few short pages.
Authors have used a variety of terms for the same stage of consciousness. In this paper, I combine adjectives that describe the main characteristic of each stage with terms that commonly refer to chronological age and capitalize them to represent, instead, the stage of consciousness. My goal in so doing is to use the ages as commonly understood metaphors that Westerners will automatically put in the proper sequence. I also believe that, given healthy guidance, experience, and education, the emotional and cognitive transitions tend to keep pace with the physical transitions from childhood to adulthood.
I also relate the stages of consciousness to the general stages of learning defined by Hubert Dreyfus and Stuart Dreyfus (1999)—similar to the Waters Foundation Systems Thinking Rubrics. Again, I take a systems perspective: Everything from the smallest habit to the highest consciousness stage is learned. We learn simple things through trial and error. However, as with all living complex systems, most of our learning is built on the knowledge of those who have come before and through complex interactions with others. Due to the structure of our brain, we learn everything in essentially the same way whether the skill is intellectual, such as chess, or physical, such as playing tennis. In other words, the learning process is self-similar: If the skill is extremely complex, it is broken down into smaller, simpler skills in a learning hierarchy. Each skill in the hierarchy is learned in approximately the same way and each builds on the previously learned skills. We begin learning a more complex skill before we have become experts in the previous, simpler skill—bootstrapping ourselves up in terms of complexity in a positive feedback loop.
In this scheme, the Physical Infant, the Emotional Young Child, and the Mental Child—the stages from infancy through mid-childhood—are the Beginners learning simple concepts and rules. The Conformist Older Child is the Advanced Beginner who, by unquestioning observation, has a grasp of the rules and comprehends his and others’ roles within these rules. The Rational Adolescent is the Competent Performer who has learned rules for a greater variety of situations and develops the ability to think about those rules. She rationally, but also emotionally, seeks rules for choosing rules and begins to develop a sense of responsibility for her actions. The Existentialist Youth is the Proficient Player who has the overview of multiple perspectives, but must still decide what to do in order to develop self-esteem and the esteem of, and connection with, others. He still has trouble transferring what he has learned in one area of his life to other areas. The Integrating Adult is the Expert Intuitive Integrator who has become “wise” and insightful. She has integrated a wide range of life experiences.
Some key points: No two people learn in exactly the same way—the process is self-similar, not self-same—because no two people are the same. However, all the stages of learning or unlearning must progress in the appropriate order; none can be skipped if one is to become an Expert. Because of this, one cannot suddenly jump from, say, Conformist Older Child (Advanced Beginner) to Integrating Adult (Expert) without going through the intermediate stages.
3. These are essentially the same two dimensions, or sets of dualities, discussed by Ken Wilber in his writings—the inside vs. the outside and the one vs. the many. Wilber argues that they provide a conceptual map of all human activity, beliefs, and evolution: Interior-individual (intentional), exterior-individual (behavioral), exterior-collective (social), and interior-collective (cultural). See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Wilber
4. As alluded to in the text, a person’s concept of spirituality appears to evolve as a person enters a new consciousness stage. The Conformist Childhood and Adolescent stages in dualistic cultures believe in organized religion and religious warfare: “My religion/God is better than yours—Mine is the REAL God.” A hallmark of the Youth stage is the belief that “God is dead”—in the sense of the patriarchal God of earlier stages. Integrated Adulthood brings with it a renewed interest in spirituality—but in a very different manner and context from previous stages. In Adulthood, it is the wondrousness and beauty of the complexity and limitlessness of Life and the Cosmos and the feeling of oneness with the universe that stir the soul.
Lorraine Filipek. I have led an eclectic life so far. I’ve worked as a baby sitter, waitress, bookkeeper, computer programmer, lab technician, teaching assistant, oceanographer, Peace Corps volunteer, exploration and environmental geochemist, science manager in both government and the private sector, consultant, architect/ designer of sustainable architecture, and author. I grew up in Michigan and have lived and/or worked in several states and countries around the globe. I recently returned home to Michigan as the prodigal daughter (at least part time). I love to create homes and landscapes that sustain the spirit and the land and have a strong urge to help our culture (and myself) reach Adulthood and renewal. I welcome comments on this article. Readers can email me at email@example.com.
Acknowledgments. Portions of this paper appeared as “Thinking on the Edge” in Shift: At the Frontiers of Consciousness, vol. 1, pp. 24-27, Institute of Noetic Sciences, December 2003 – February 2004, http://media.noetic.org/uploads/files/s1_filipek.pdf
The editor and all the reviewers have made insightful comments from their own unique perspectives. And all have added great value to the article. My heartfelt thanks!
Staff helping with this article: Editor: Barry Clemson, Reviewers: Gene Bellinger, Charles Gregory, Alexander Laszlo, William Smith
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Citation Details for this Article: Filipek, Lorraine. 2013. We Are Not the Enemy! Thoughts on Habits and the Challenge of “Enlightenment” (or of being a Systems Thinker). Systems Thinking World Journal: Reflection in Action. [Online Journal]. 2(3). [Referred 2013-09-16]. Available:http://stwj.systemswiki.org. ISSN-L 2242-8577 ISSN 2242-8577