Exploring Self and Systems Simultaneity

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This article explores the nature of Self (which is an independent autonomous and open systems in itself) with another System (say the organisation we work with). The other system can be many others as well: family, social, religious community, an affiliation, etc.

The nature of Systems

 All systems have some common facets:

1.    Each is whole and part of the other

2.    Each impact the other

3.    Each carries a ‘picture of relatedness’ of the other

4.    Both have ‘experiences’ of each other – which either resonate or held in dissonance.

What sets us Humans apart is our ability to express, relate, envision and reflect. When two systems interact there is a simultaneous result of ‘thinking, feeling and acting’. Systems are dynamic (a continuous verb) not a noun (static). At any point there is a configuration, and at the point of singularity (observation) not unlike a Kaleidoscope, one sees a picture, of a picture and possibilities of many potential pictures. The Self carries a picture of itself (SI) and sees itself similar or distinctive to other human systems (OP), as it also carries a picture of its idealised self (SI).

Role Taking and Role making

 At all points of time, the human system carries a ‘picture of system in the mind’ and its’ membership, as also a picture of Self – it multiplicities of identity and a propensity for role taking stances. Remember, both of these pictures are ‘in the mind’ and are subjective realities. The Self system is in continuous ‘role making’. It carries notions of role making, idealised systems, projections, and how it manages leadership, followership, change and conflict. The Organisation system also exerts its influence on the individual psyche: how does it allow for socialisation, role taking, introjections, managing demands, duties and responsibilities, inclusion, exclusion and processes of empowering and self-authorising.

Clash of the Titans

Within us as human systems lies the challenge in ‘co-holding’ the two pictures of relatedness. There may arise polarities, contradictions, dilemmas and paradoxes. The response to these two pictures may lead to ‘either-or’ seeing both as mutually exclusive and with defined and rigid boundaries and preoccupation with managing boundaries. The difficulty is coped through the triangle of ‘Fight-Flight-Freeze’. In fight, all tension rather than being seen as an inevitable imperative is viewed as a conflict, Flight, when the phenomena is distorted, denied, or only glimpsed only at surface level, or the process of ‘othering’ and holding the other system with suspicion and vigilance. Often, one may freeze, leading to stalemates, entrenchments and indecisiveness, and lament Macbeth’s ‘to be or not to be’.

My Specific Organisational System

As a human system we carry a generic picture of ‘Organisations’ – ‘Most Other Organisation’ (MOO) as a collective entity, but we also have a picture of the Specific Organisation (that we work for), that is both similar and distinctive to other organisations (OC), as well as an idealised picture, (OI). These are the specific ‘specialness’ features of our working organisation.

Glues and Repellents

 Our human systems constellation has many universes/multiplicities an its inter-alia dynamics as also an intra alia perspective: its own engagement, over-engagement, denial or shadow create Glues (attractiveness) or act as Repellents (aversions) with other Systems. So, for instance, if our own Organisation Concept is closer to Idealised Organisation, and further away from Most other organisations then it acts as a Glue (low or high) and on the other hand if the OI is closer to MOO than it is to OI, it acts as a repellent. Glues would enable comfort, ownership, preservation focus and also a reluctance to see the downsides. Repellents on the other hand, would create restlessness, low ownership, and a propensity to transform. This sets up the elements for our systemic membership and relatedness to the organisation.

Social Character

Let me start with explaining Social Character

Erich Fromm first used the term ‘social character’ in his book, Escape from Freedom in the 1930s. He explains how a society influences its individuals and vice versa, and how ideologies form and absorb. People regard beliefs, as ‘self-evident truths’ within the ‘social arrangement’ of the prevalent times.1 For example, a belief ‘One can make oneself happy’. We tend to take them as given. It lies in the background, at most times beyond access of our consciousness. The popular notions of our times (aka imagined ideas) is taken for granted, as if it is a truism – ‘This is it, this is the reality, the truth, where is the doubt?’. So, we think. So, we believe. So, we act. Each in accordance to our imagined ideas. Now, Social Character is different to Cultural identity, the latter is more a function of what is inherited, Desh (country) say race, religion, etc while social character is more about the Kaal (times) we live in. Some of the prevalent ideas (beliefs and assumptions existing around us) may include: Each person is responsible for her/his choice of actions, ‘self-interest’ govern human beings and altruism is essentially a reciprocal arrangement, striving for continuous improvement is better than contentment.

We find these truths obvious and we take this for granted. As long as these truths are unquestioned, there will be no change. How does it impact our response to this social arrangement? In a society where we believe all human beings are equal, we tend to brush away feelings of inequality that exists. Where personal individuation is paramount, then we deliberately ignore ‘dependence’ on the other. If for instance we believe an individual is responsible for her own learning, then even if she is in a ‘recipient mode’ it is difficult to accept this. There is a dissonance between what she feels, versus what she is expected to feel. This brings up the inner tension within, the shadows which stay repressed, the invisible and disowned, which is withheld and inarticulate.

Let us explore further with respect to Self and Systems: As a result of the cathexis between the two pictures of relatedness (Self and System) there would be a quadrant of Y – axis of high or low identification and an X-axis of Valuing of the System, either high or low.

In quadrant 1(top right) of (high identification and high valuing) one would wish to be the role model, the solid citizen. In quadrant 2, (low identification, high valuation) the follower, the learner, who wishes to adapt, but holds self-doubts and inadequacies. In quadrant 3, (the zone of high identification and low valuing, top left) one would see the oscillation between preserving and influencing change. Finally, in quadrant 4, the zone of low identification and low valuing, one who sees himself as the ‘odd ball’ – a misfit, the disrupter and rebel, or those carrying marginalised roles.

A pattern emerges around the preferred ‘role-taking’ and ‘role-making’ styles of the individual and his/her interface with the system, with the resultant intended and unintended consequences. It sets up the thinking, feeling and ways of acting with systems and to role taking, meaning making, choice taking, and action taking.

Ashok Malhotra, a mentor and friend has pioneered three decades of thinking and research to offer a structural basis to explore these aspects, which he calls the lens of Existential Universal Mapper. For those who work with Systems (in roles of leaders, change makers, facilitators, etc) the exploration of Self and Systems (one’s own subjective reality) and its implications in Client Organisation (Collective subjective lens) this is an essential tool kit to understanding the human condition and the simultaneity of Self and Systems

  1. Ashok Malhotra, Social Character, Sumedhas.og Website

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