1.13. Why It’s So Important to Think Systemically

We need to look at the underlying system that causes people to act a certain way, instead of rushing to judgments about their character.

Last week was the Super Bowl.

A bunch of guys were on a field being extremely violent, smacking the hell out of each other.

But does that mean they’re inherently violent people?

Can we actually conclude anything about their character, based on what they did out there?

Of course not.

It’s football. The violence is built into the game. It doesn’t matter how violent or nonviolent you are as a person. If you’re in the middle of a football game, you’re going to try to beat the other team, and you’re going to act violently. Because that’s the way the game is set up. That’s what the game rewards.

There’s an important lesson here about our politics.

If we want to fix this increasingly bitter, increasingly divisive, increasingly dangerous political situation, we need to stop pretending it’s about who people are.

It’s not about people’s character, people’s values, or people’s inherent worth. It’s not about one side being smarter or more virtuous than the other.

It’s about the way the system is set up.

If the system rewards smacking the hell out of the other side, doing everything in your power to beat them, that’s what people are going to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad, smart or not-so-smart, or virtuous or not-so-virtuous at heart.

That kind of divisive, violent behavior is all well and good if it’s just a game. But politics isn’t a game. People die when our politics are messed up.

In our two-party system, is it really surprising that we end up pitted against each other, trying to smack the hell out of each other—instead of working together toward the common good?

If we want everybody to do well, everybody to succeed, everybody to be happy and healthy and fulfilled—isn’t dividing ourselves into two groups so that one side wins and the other loses a horrible way to go about achieving that goal?

What we have today isn’t abnormal or surprising. It’s the totally logical, natural result of a two-party system that prioritizes beating the other guys over the common good.

I don’t know about you, but I want to live in an America that prioritizes the well-being of all Americans. I want to live in a world that prioritizes the well-being of everyone in the world.

But we aren’t going to get there in our current system, any more than nonviolence is spontaneously going to break out in the middle of a football game. It’s just not set up to produce that outcome. It’s designed to create division, pit us against each other, make people into winners and losers.

If we want to create real, lasting social change, we need to think systemically. We need to look at the underlying system that causes people to act a certain way, instead of rushing to judgments about their character. And we need to create new rules of engagement that prioritize the common good over divisive, zero-sum combat.

 

This is the 25th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *