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A Wilder Harmony of Systems Thinking, Mindfulness, and Non-Violent Communication

Updated: Nov 6, 2021

By Lisa Allen

A system is a set of interrelated elements that make a unified whole.

Systems are everywhere. Our solar system is a non-living system, as is a car. An ecological habitat is a living system, as is a human family, a community, or a small group of friends.

Thinking in terms of systems, or “Systems Thinking” is founded on basic, universal principles that one begins to detect in all arenas of life once we learn to recognize them.

At A Wilder Harmony I use mindfulness to observe the ever evolving and dissolving systems in our midst throughout the day. "Mindfulness" is a particular way of paying attention: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment. This temporary withholding of judgment helps with clear perception, ultimately allowing better discernment in response to situations.

I value the systems approach because the universal principles of systems behave in certain ways regardless of the “rightness” of my intentions. It has a lot more to do with the impact and perceptions of my actions, which are not predictable by planning nor training. They have to do with the immediate, ever evolving conditions. I also try to remain cognizant that I am an interrelated part of the systems I’m watching. It’s all too easy for the observer to somehow exclude themselves from the system they’re observing, of which they are an interactive part.

Non-Violent Communication informs many of my actions, believing all behaviors to be in service of universal human needs. Strategies vary in their successes and in the unintended harms they cause. But the intentions are in service of life. And in my forty years of work with children I’ve discovered for myself the innate goodness of tiny young human beings. Transient challenging behaviors are part of our everyday life. And yet most of the sustained problematic behaviors can be traced back to unintentional lapses in both understanding and in respect for the experience of the child.

This week I was interested in supporting inclusivity in the group and reducing exclusive play that was upsetting to the excluded children, disrupting the ease and delight of the day.

Telling children that they shouldn’t do something they want to do generally brings on other arising challenging behaviors, adding unneeded complexity to management in the future, and eroding adult-child relationships.

So, I began by offering words for what I saw. And then I told them more about what I saw, and about what was happening in me in that moment. What I didn’t do was try to control what they would do next. It went something like this:

Tia Lisa: “I remember how great it can feel to just play with my own special friends and not let others in. When we don’t let others in, it’s called, ‘exclusive.’ I saw that today. Did you see you were doing that?”

The Children: “Yes.”

Tia Lisa: “Great! When you did that, I saw some people crying. Did you see that?”

The Children: “Yes.”

Tia Lisa: “I appreciate that you saw that! They told me they were feeling sad and angry when you wouldn’t let them play with you. When I saw that, I felt really sad, too.

When people invite everyone to play with them, that’s called ‘inclusive.’

Right now, to help the feelings in the group, I’m needing you to let people play with you who want to, being ‘inclusive.’

I don’t know how you’ll decide to do that. But I just want you to know that I’ll watch, and I will see and appreciate whenever you start doing it.”

(And then I walked away.)

What was guiding my words was trusting their goodness, knowing they were meeting their own needs, assuming they didn’t have any reason at that point to be particularly aware of other’s feelings. I acknowledged my guess at why they were doing what they were doing, gave them some information about the current emotions of the group, and told them what I was watching for. I wanted to allow them to make the decision, and for them to be able to create how they did it.

These children soon found their own way of inviting others in. So, in a rather quiet way, I told them I saw them inviting people in, pointed out the result in happier feelings in the group, and expressed my sincere gratitude. I was quiet about it so that they could have full ownership of that creative choice they made.

They still retained some of their exclusivity, which is not a problem since I watch for progress rather than perfection. All endeavors can be started with one tiny step forward.

There’s more to share of the continuing story of evolving partial success. But you have many things to do with your time. Thank you for reading about some of the deeper thoughts supporting your child’s day. In addition, I’d like to acknowledge that everything we do at school rests on the foundation of your labors of love at home. The benevolent presence of each one of you parents is very clear to Tia Jennifer and me as we interact with your children. And for that, the whole universe offers you profound thanks.

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