I write from Barcelona, as a fractal of many other places worldwide. I am overloaded everywhere with news and pictures in social media of people bulldozing supermarkets and pharmacies, and compulsively sharing false or unchecked information, etc. Also, with news and pictures in social media of people exchanging and collaborating within local communities, neighbourhoods, etc. (ex., allow elderly people to buy from 10am to 11am in supermarkets; do not buy at once all basic needs, etc.)
How can it be? Two sides of the same coin? Systems thinking is gaining presence and people is not only astonished by past behaviours, but also by the awareness of virtuous and vicious circles. In other words, complex chains of events that reinforce themselves through a feedback loop: A virtuous circle has favorable results, while a vicious circle has detrimental results. To sum up, our current planetary situation, which influences all of us, is a gigantic opportunity to realize more than ever before that everything connects to everything else.
For example, my wife and I were not really feeling anxious about buying toilet paper, but news were coming nonstop from everywhere, and we (1) felt anxious by thinking we would run out of baby milk for Gaia, our baby girl. We felt that there would be a shortage. Therefore, we (2) decided to buy a couple of pots of baby milk, which (3) could have contributed to the end of baby milk in shops and supermarkets, leaving other parents without milk for their babies. This “little and local” behaviour that seems innocuous could have reinforced a negative or vicious circle, the so-called Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, suggesting that ours beliefs influenced our actions, and those to a real shortage.
Why is so? We, humans, get too many distractions and do not realize of the consequences of our own behaviour. In other words, attributing change is difficult because cause and effect are often distant in time and space.
What can we do then here and now?
We have to be aware that our individual and collective behaviour changes (for the best or the worse) the systems we are embedded, as we have exemplified above. Therefore, each one of us has the opportunity to do at least these two main things:
1.- Be mindful in order to minimize negative systemic loops (ex., ill people without medicines; celiac people without gluten-free food, etc.).
2.- Be mindful in order to maximize positive systemic loops (ex., buy just the necessary fresh food so it does not get wasted at home and other people can buy; use hygienic protection when shopping; volunteer to buy food for most vulnerable groups like elderly people, sick people, etc.).
In doing so, we will find ourselves cultivating the habits of a systems thinker: (a) Seeking to understand the big picture; (b) identifying the circular nature of complex cause-effect relationships, (c) considering how mental models affect current reality and subsequently, the future, etc. Therefore, we will more easily move from ego to eco (in words of @Otto Scharmer: https://medium.com/presencing-institute-blog/eight-emerging-lessons-from-coronavirus-to-climate-action-683c39c10e8b), and find high leverage actions, changes and interventions and run them (ex., cut off and not share rumours or fake news; feel, think and act for the well-being of the whole).
Finally, remember, (1) stop the virus and (2) start being the change you wish to see in the world.
Jordi Escartín, PhD. (Organizational & People Development Consultant; Executive & Systemic Coach; Intrapreneur & Associate Professor).