What is a system?

A system is an entity made of two or more constituent parts acting in concert.

Ahem, in English, please?

Here are some examples… your body is a system, made up of many body parts that help propel you through space and time. Your family is a system with multiple members doing their part supporting each other through life. Earth itself is a system made up of systems, and it is part of larger systems, like the solar system, the galaxy and the universe.

A FUNCTIONAL system is any group of two or more people or things that, when working together, can accomplish a task faster/better or create something greater than that which could be created alone. I think of a musical group or a work team as systems. The output from either is generally greater than the output of any one alone or the sum of all individual’s outputs, when the system functions well.

Human systems can be long-lived or they can be transitory. Sometimes, you might gather a group of individuals for a project, accomplish that project and part ways. Other times, as in a marriage or other long term partnership, you expect the system to persist forever, even if it grows and changes. A two-person relationship can “spin-off” additional systems, like a household system, a family system, etc.

The first step in building and maintaining healthy, functional systems is to realize that’s what they are. Systems require maintenance. You cannot expect the output of the system to be amazing if you, as a member of the system, aren’t giving what you have to give to it honestly. You cannot leave the system and expect it to carry on without you. It becomes something different. You also cannot command a system from outside. You are within it and you are ultimately responsible for what comes out of it.

Think about how many systems you are a part of and consider how you are showing up and participating in them. First, your intimate relationship. Are you giving as much and as honestly as you could be? How do you “show up” for your partner? Then your family/household. How are you showing up for the household? Neighborhood, community, church, social group, same thing. Town or city, state, country, humanity, earth? These are all systems in which we are all a part. And they all function more or less well, based on what each individual brings to the table.

Now showing up doesn’t mean doing more than we can or more than our part. Or does mean communicating with intention, acting with integrity, doing what you say you’ll do, following through, being wholly present for one another and not taking actions that are deliberately harmful. Consider the effect of your decisions and actions on others and on the systems themselves. Sometimes, you will need to take more and give less. That is OK as long as others in the system can pick up the slack and maintain the system. Neglecting the system will decrease its sustainability and longevity and then you will have to start over from scratch. The good news is that when you become aware of how the systems in your life work, you can choose to show up and build on what exists instead of withdrawing or tearing down the system from within by acting in ways that are detrimental to the system.

Make sense?

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