Leaders are everywhere in democratic societies. You and I are among them. You may be a parent, teacher, police officer, young person, community activist, or someone angered by what you see wrong in America.
Whether your anger is sparked by gun violence, immigration, racism, or inequality — or you simply don’t understand why some people are upset — you are not alone. Like many, you might feel helpless, thinking, “I could never make a real difference or lasting change.” But you’d be wrong.
Emotions can get the best of us when confronted by the opposite belief systems. Imagine two people discussing their abortion beliefs. What makes this a firey topic manageable is when both people listen to each other without judgment. Both share their sides and both only focus on how the topic is making the other person feel. Imagine what a calmer society would look like … people being able to share opposing topics without needing to call the cops.
Change comes from leaders who build relationships between diverse people and organizations. It comes from everyday people who think deeply about problems and solutions. How does this happen?
What happens when complex societal issues, like racism, inequality, immigration, and violence are reduced to their simplest parts? When people believe there are simple cause and effect solutions like closing borders or banning guns?
Reductionism (keep it simple) produces an “us versus them” society, a right versus wrong mentality. Rather than recognizing that everyone is part of the solution, reductionism places the responsibility for societal problems on external factors beyond human control. We cease listening to each other. We stop seeking answers that focus on interrelationships and start blaming groups of people, political parties, or organizations for our problems. Reductionism creates a natural environment for bullying and fear to thrive, a perfect storm for the rise of chaos and disorder.
4 Ways to Become an Effective Change Maker
When we adopt a systems perspective of how humans develop and solve societal issues, we naturally become part of powerful and positive grassroots change. We learn to model behavior that helps raise and educate children with core abilities to navigate 21st century lives, and to become critical thinkers and citizens of an informed democracy.
You don’t need to be a systems scientist to be an everyday leader and systems thinker —someone who can make a real difference to improve families, schools, communities, and society. Everyone can challenge reductionist thinking and become an effective change maker in the following four ways.
1. See the Whole
Step back and look at the big picture instead of focusing on parts. Reflect on your own thoughts and feelings. Put yourself in others’ shoes. Look at the connections between you and others instead of coming to quick cause-and-effect conclusions.
2. Look Through a Multi-Dimensional Lens
Notice a wide range of reasons for behavior, consequences, and implications. Listen to people’s stories, observing how your own story connects with theirs. Learn the art of positive skepticism!
3. Influence Others Indirectly
Problems are influenced and resolved indirectly by a variety of behaviors, including asking questions, listening, showing flexibility, and being respectful of others. Don’t be concerned about who gets credit for a solution. The best leaders help others feel invested through collaborative solutions.
4. Evaluate Strategies
Short term success does not necessarily equate with long term success. Examine unintended long term consequences of quick fixes. Focus on strategies that improve key relationships among the parts rather than the parts themselves. Decide what the other person is saying and how that is making them feel. There is no need for a heated debate … all that achieves is absolutely nothing,