Systems Thinking

Is our educational system teaching us to objectify the world?

Conventional thinking is analytical. It focuses on characterizing, categorizing and differentiating individuals and groups.

Image @bortwein

It is an efficient way to got a lot of information about many things, and it is the mainstay of western education.

Analytical thinking is at its best when accompanied by direct experience. We integrate the knowledge we gain into our being. We observe the colors of the apple, feel the smoothness of the skin and its weight in our hand. We breathe in its fragrance and taste the fruit. When we then add information about its genus and species, and a description of how it compares to an orange, the information is anchored by our experience.

When analysis is not anchored in direct experience, we are unable to make meaning from the bits of information floating around our brains. Knowing becomes equated with labeling: we can list all we “know” about an apple or an orange, and get a good grade on the test, but never see the tree or taste the fruit.

Further, in this way of knowing, all that we seek to know becomes an object for us to define. Without realizing it, this “subject-object” emphasis becomes not just a means for understanding the world, but the lens through which we view it.


As this infogram from the Presencing Institute shows, conventional analytical thinking can reinforce the objectification of the world around us. At the extreme, we can become so conditioned into analytical thinking that we fail to recognize that it is only one way of knowing, while discounting other sources of information and knowledge.

In contrast, systems thinking focuses on relationships and interactions between components of a system.

I will write more about systems thinking in my next post – but for now, I ask you to consider: What would the world be like if our immediate way of relating to it was by focusing on relationships and interactions, instead of categorizing and differentiating?

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