I spend a lot of time thinking about systems. More specifically, I think about how systems within an organization impact the people within and outside its boundaries. As a developing educator, I frequently thought about how the "system" of education had failed me, and how it fails so many others. When I became a teacher, I had to reconcile my part in that system. I watched as I saw the same mistakes, the same flaws, the same injuries occur to my students as happened to me. I saw myself, not intentionally, but out of a desire to just survive as a beginning teacher, injure my own students. Later, as a doctoral student, I studied the system even more. I saw how education connected to even larger, more complex systems that appeared to possess incomprehensible power. Systems created to intentionally marginalize others.
Racism. Sexism. Ableism. Poverty. Incarceration. Hunger. War. Neglect. Hate. Bitterness.
All these and more personified and crystallized into ominously amorphous spectres. Over which one individual could wield no power. "The Work" we call it. "This Work". A spiritual refrain of secular religion that motivates those burdened with consciences to stumble forward against powers that seek to oppress. It's hard to have hope when you're fighting a monster.
The more I study systems, the more I realize that the systems we create are reflections of us. They are imperfect, broken, naïve, silly, insecure, bold, angry, brave, and most importantly....temporary. Yet...systems aren't real things. Jaron Lanier, a pioneer and author on technology, points out that computer programs are designed by people. The more we personify programs, the less we see the role of individual people in their design. I believe the same is true with systems. To some extent, I believe we have deified systems, given them power and status that is undeserved. At bottom, what is an organizational system than the coordinated efforts and regulated behavior of individual people in relationship with each other? All it takes to break a system is for one individual to choose otherwise.
Yet, the myth lives on that all we need to do is "continuously improve" or "deconstruct" current systems and build new ones in their place. This, my friends, is a chasing after the wind. The systems are to some degree, scapegoats. We blame them, we hold them accountable, we point to them as the cause of our callousness, but ultimately it isn't the systems that need reform, it's our hearts.