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Surely we all want fairness and sustainability, don’t we? When you look inside yourself, are you happy with, on the one hand, conflict, resentment and anger OR, on the other hand, shame, guilt and a terrible reputation?

We’ve seen some extremely angry rhetoric in recent times about the policies and behaviours of our corporations and governments. “Corruption, abuse, injustice, greed, incompetence, blind self-interest, cronyism!” the impassioned accusations and the splenetic rage continue to seethe.

Yet here’s a counter-intuitive fact: the very thing in themselves that makes the critics so angry is the same thing that causes the behaviour of the leaders they are so angry about. Both accusers and accused are suffering from the same misunderstanding. That misunderstanding is called “myopia”. Myopia is a condition in which we can only see things that are directly in front of us – that is, we can’t see the bigger picture. And this is precisely the problem we have when we see only symptoms and not causes, in business, government, economics and society – and ourselves.

I doubt that many people grow up thinking “I’m going to become rich and famous – and I’m going to do it by committing fraud, exploiting the under-privileged and destroying the environment.” What seems to happen is that those who seek prosperity or influence are drawn by the dominant paradigm of our age into a bigger picture that, for the most part, they cannot see. The MBA simply promises them “insight and success”; the NGO recruitment ad describes “equality and justice”; the party manifesto proclaims “social improvement and economic freedom”. What all of them tend to miss is the complex, interdependent reality that is impacted by their single-minded pursuit of compelling but simple goals.

I suggest that, in our deepest being, we are all seekers of harmony, balance, mutual interest and the increasing benefit of the system of which we are parts; apart from anything else, enlightened self-interest drives this tendency. Inevitably we all suffer wounds in life – emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically – and when wounded many of us lash out at others. Ultimately, however, none of us seeks hatred, antipathy and stress.

At its most aware, the dialectic of “adversarial” politics seeks out solutions better than either party could have seen on its own. Other things being equal, the battles between competing enterprises tend to produce better solutions for customers. When we lash out at perceived injustice it is because we all want justice; when we rage against “corruption” we are crying out for the honourable behaviour in which we all wish to participate and from which we all wish to benefit.

The great systems thinker Gregory Bateson, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1973), defined wisdom as “a sense or recognition of the fact of circuitry”. In this powerful thought lies the answer to two problems: the self-destructive behaviours of our leaders towards society and the environment and our rage and regret at these behaviours.

As we begin to see more clearly the longer-term (post hoc and ante hoc), more distant consequences and causes of our thoughts, feelings and actions, we will see something else too: we will see the means to achieve prosperity, power and influence by SOLVING social and environmental problems. Fairness, balance, global systemic health and wealth are in everyone’s interest and are inevitable consequences of a systems view of the world.

When we can all lift our myopic gaze from our temporary near-sighted focus on only what is directly in front of us and see how we all contribute to the rich and complex mix of interrelated phenomena that we are, we will stop being angry and stop doing harm. There will no longer be the accuser and the accused – because they are one thing, divided by a misunderstanding of how reality actually works.

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