Systems Being: Going Beyond the Theory of Systems Thinking

The other day I had lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in several years. Kathia Laszlo is a young woman I met about fifteen years ago while she was married to Alexander Laszlo the younger son of Ervin Laszlo, the prolific Hungarian systems theorist. In this time, she has earned herself quite a reputation as an expert in systems and complexity thinking, social systems design and organizational learning.


What prompted my invitation for her to join me for lunch was a phrase she had used in one of her many articles – “systems being.” For those who have followed my work over the years, you know me to be a self-labeled “scholar” of systems thinking, ever since I was exposed to systems theory and systems dynamics by MIT professor Peter Senge in the early 1980s. For over thirty years I have thought of myself as a scholar because social systems can be so tricky they can humble anyone thinking they are the expert who can come in and resolve their complex misbehaviors. But I had never heard or seen the phrase “systems being” until now and it struck me as a more accurate term for confronting the complex pickles we are surrounded with today.

Given my conviction that our consciousness is at the root cause of all these pickles – our global challenges and crises of all sorts – our thinking has to change if we want the kind of future we’d like for our children and their children. As I point out several times in The Great Growing Up, our thinking is what got us into this pickle!

Laszlo writes, “…no matter how many solar panels we install, how many green products we consume, how much CO2 we remove from the atmosphere, we will not be living better lives if we do not transform ourselves, our lifestyles, choices and priorities.”

Each of us is part of many, many systems, all influencing us every day. We are unaware of most of these systemic influences, thinking we are making conscious choices (see article). Knowing how systems behave and misbehave, knowing about feedback loops and closed or open systems, doesn’t mean that we are not influenced by the hundreds of systems we have been influenced by, in the past as well as in the present. Knowing how they work doesn’t make us impervious to their dysfunctions. Knowing how whisky is made does not make us immune to alcoholism.

Laszlo’s article concludes with this:

Systems being and systems living brings it all together: linking head, heart and hands. The expression of systems being is an integration of our full human capacities. It involves rationality with reverence to the mystery of life, listening beyond words, sensing with our whole being, and expressing our authentic self in every moment of our life. The journey from systems thinking to systems being is a transformative learning process of expansion of consciousness—from awareness to embodiment.

Embodiment means “being it,” not just knowing it. Merely knowing it is awareness, and awareness alone is insufficient as we see today in all our global crises. Being aware of climate change isn’t mustering the political will to take the audacious action to mitigate the impact we are having on the environment. Being aware of the interrelatedness of all living beings isn’t doing much to stop us from acting as if we are separate, even alienated, from one another.

So, thank you, Kathia! Thanks for the nudge to see with new eyes, to shift my perspective and learn from a younger soul. And thanks so much for joining me for lunch. It was wonderful catching up!