If You Want to Create Change, Focus on Systems

Zoe is a blogger for Psychology Today (PT), and each week we’ll be sharing her PT blog posts here. Enjoy!

I became a humane educator more than 30 years ago, teaching about interconnected environmental, human rights, and animal protection issues in order to inspire deeper empathy, better critical thinking, and more ethical behavior among my students.

When I began this work my primary goal was to motivate and prepare my students to make choices in their lives that do the most good and least harm for people, animals, and the environment.

Now, however, my primary goal has evolved to prepare young people to be solutionaries for a better world. While part of being a solutionary includes an effort to make personal choices that do the most good and least harm, the broader goal of a solutionary is to transform unhealthy and inhumane systems so that everyone can more easily participate in societies that are compassionate, fair, and restorative.

When I use the term systems in the context of this post, I’m referring to human-created structures, procedures, and networks that consist of interrelated and interdependent elements, such as economic systems, legal systems, energy systems, military systems, and political systems.

We may wish to minimize our personal carbon footprint, yet no one reading this post can avoid fossil fuels. They are embedded in every system in which we take part—agriculture, transportation, heating and cooling, construction, production, infrastructure, and technology (i.e. the computer on which I’m writing this post). We won’t escape complicity until we change the systems.

While we may assiduously try to avoid creating trash, should we have to go to a hospital, waste will be significant and unavoidable. And while we may choose not to buy personal care and household products tested on animals in painful experiments, the medications we’ll be given in that hospital certainly will have been. We won’t have any ability to avoid these harmful practices until we change the systems.

Perhaps we are dedicated to democracy. We advocate for candidates whose policies we support; we contact our legislators frequently; we never miss an election. Despite our dedication, however, the U.S. system of democracy will remain corrupted (no matter which party is in power) by corporate donations and lobbyists, as well as by a small number of billionaire donors who can profoundly influence elections, until we change the system.

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