We spend most of our lives as members of collections of people – families, corporations, churches, civic groups, gangs, book clubs, sports teams, ethnic groups, economic systems, cities, nation states—to name just a few. Unfortunately, we have very little understanding of how these groups or systems work as a whole. We tend to see groups or organizations as simply the accumulation of the individuals that make them up. We also interpret events that happen in groups in very personal, one-to-one, linear, cause-and-effect ways: “Dad did that to make me feel guilty.” “We’re getting a lot of returns because the director of quality control is incompetent.” “You made me miss my flight.”
In his new book, The Dance of We: The Mindful Use of Love and Power in Human Systems (Synthesis Center Press, September 2014), Mark Horowitz explains how to “see systemically,” a different way of looking at and understanding the groups we belong to and how profoundly they affect our behavior: “Once you are able to see an organization or system as a whole, an entity that takes on an identity and life of its own which then affects all of its members, you will begin to better understand some of the baffling dynamics of everyday life . . . like why you can’t get your family to eat dinner together, or why work/life balance is so difficult to achieve, or why we are losing the war on drugs despite the massive effort and resources being directed at the problem.”
During his thirty-five years as a licensed family therapist, international business consultant, and university professor, and from his young adult experience in a cult, Horowitz has amassed a varied and extensive understanding about human systems and how they work --- and don’t work. “The usual, cause-and-effect way of seeing often leads to finger pointing, blame and polarization among the very people who need to be working together to solve the systemic problem. It also leads to paralysis and gridlock as we wait for those ‘other’ people who are causing our problems, to change. Yet they rarely do. So we change wives, or change the director of quality control, or the president of the United States, but nothing really changes.” This book explains why.