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Systems Thinking | Moe Hannah Blog

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a way of viewing the world that has been around for decades, but is slowly gaining popularity in the business world, the world of politics and beyond. In our world of family focused legal work, it is a way of seeing how families operate and seeing ways out of conflict. There are a few key take aways from systems thinking that are helpful in working with families:

  1. Interconnection – The relationships between and among the participants in a family system ARE how the system functions.  It is tempting – especially in our traditional adversarial system – to see one person in the family as the “cause” of issues. A different way of viewing this is that each person’s actions influence the actions of the other. In some respects, this empowers each participant in the system to change the system if it isn’t serving them. Every person can, at least to a degree, modify the response and behaviour of other system-members by changing their own conduct. Please don’t misunderstand. Sometimes it is clear that one person’s conduct is problematic or even dangerous. Even then, however, the way in which other people in the system react to that conduct and in turn trigger reaction from others still places them in a system.
  1. Purpose – The stated purposes for a lot of parents is to raise healthy well-adjusted children. The actual purpose of the system, however, is best identified by looking at what the system actually produced and maintains. Unintentionally a family system may have the purpose of sustaining conflict and animosity. Systems are prone to protecting themselves and resisting change. Focusing on the desirable and undesirable purposes of the system may be the motivator to continue to work on change. It requires intentionality and considerable dedication to change a system that resists that change.
  1. Stock – this the reservoir or memory of the system. It is the balancing force. Think about it like a reservoir of goodwill or a “favour bank”. If there is no stock of goodwill, every undesirable action or expression is going to hit like a tonne of bricks. When someone wants to make a withdrawal from the favour bank, that isn’t possible if deposits have not been previously made. Working to create a soft cushion or reservoir of goodwill in a co-parenting relationship allows the relationship to remain stable and healthy through challenges. Failing to do that may result in resentments, hyper-sensitivity to the conduct of the other and perpetual conflict. Even small “slights or infractions” will take on epic proportions when there is not stock of goodwill.

This is a rich area of social science with much to read and learn. We are far from the experts on this, but at Moe Hannah we strive to stay engaged in social science and psychology theory and developments as a way to best serve our clients and their children through a challenging time in their lives. For a good introduction to systems thinking we recommend “Thinking in Systems: a primer” by Donella H. Meadows.