Wholistic Approach

We live in the world of systems, an endless number of interactive and interdependent systems. Hence, our challenges need to be perceived in this systemic, wholistic way. When facing many mounting problems the first fundamental step in an effective response is the proper framing of all these challenges, big and small. Compartmentalization of problems always leads to addressing just one or very few, usually superficial parts of a challenge, making any 'solutions' ineffective. They may, at best, deliver some short term results. Without accepting and understanding this basic fact any effort to address major challenges, including changing of our food culture or taking care of our health, will be fundamentally flawed.

Holistic, wholistic (which is the older and more descriptive way to spell the word) or systemic are all synonyms that refer to perceiving and dealing with reality seen as whole functioning systems. A farm is a system but so is the entire infrastructure supplying our foods: our food system. This consists of many interconnected elements spreading from soil to the consumer's plate. Our body is a system. Every organization is also a system. A website is a system. The list is endless because wherever we turn, there are interdependent systems. Any system must be fully functional internally but it also is always affected by and responds to other systems with which it interacts or of which it is a part.

It is not easy to properly and clearly describe the nature of complex systems and even more difficult to provide any instructions about how to use the wholistic approach. This all sounds very fuzzy, difficult and not practical. It is, indeed, if we try to understand and apply to it the analytical, logical, reductionist thinking, which seems to be the norm in our society. It just doesn't work. However, we humans have the natural ability to deal with systemic nature of the reality, we just don't use it much. We need to practice it, learn to trust it and to use it in all aspects of our lives. The challenge of food sustainability cannot be considered in any other way but wholistic.

Describing wholistic thinking through words in a logical fashion is the most awkward and difficult way because a logical approach is contradictory to wholistic thinking. Through logic we come to conclusions following some definite steps, dealing with issues one by one to reach final results. Through wholistic thinking conclusions "appear" and then they just make sense. We may only then use logic to assess their validity.

Logical/analytical and wholistic/systemic thinking are not opposite alternatives. One is not better than the other because they are two complementary parts of how our minds function. We need them both and we should use them both. However, in our culture we have disregarded wholistic thinking to our great detriment. We don't encourage and learn wholistic thinking, and consequently don't trust it.

Most of us feel very uncomfortable with a wholistic approach as it seems to be out of our control. Such thinking is often not even considered "thinking" since it seems to happen somewhere beyond our conscious minds. We need first to state and internalize the challenge, then gradually "load" the information in and the "thinking" occurs beyond our direct control, at a time and at terms we cannot schedule or dictate. For complex tasks, answers usually take shape gradually. Once they have taken shape, they can then be assessed and accepted or rejected. But sometimes solutions also come in an instant, as specific answers we were looking for.

Any problem can be resolved only if we understand its roots and act at that level. It is worthy to ponder this statement since we live in the world of band-aid solutions that at the best may only relieve some symptoms while the problems remain. It usually seems to be too difficult or too scary to dig deeper to search for the source of the problems whether it is the state of societies, our personal health or any other serious challenge. The deeper we dig, the more effective the remedy we may find. Only through adopting the wholistic approach to all our challenges may we have a chance to find and understand some basic principles that govern specific systems and learn whether these principles are compromised. If they are, that means that the root of the problem may be found.

The systemic, wholistic approach is fundamental to the challenge of stimulating transition of our food culture and also for dealing with our health, which for most of us maybe the highest and most direct concern. The Centre will be serving as an example of the wholistic approach to our biggest challenges but will also provide programs that may stimulate and expand understanding of such approach. Give it a chance, trust your well informed intuition. If something makes sense, it does. When something really seems to be wrong, it is. And that is regardless of how many contrary arguments can be presented to us.

Recommended Books

 The Art of Systems Thinking

The Art of Systems Thinking. Joseph O'Connor and Ian McDermott