Can the Big Picture Make Things Simpler?

Like many others these days, the complexity of the world we live in is wearing me down and I find myself craving simplicity. But, what if instead, the big picture actually made things clearer?

When seeing the Earth from afar for the first time, many astronauts described a cognitive shift in their awareness. Now called the Overview Effect, their experience of seeing the reality of Earth suspended in space with national borders no longer visible, immediately resulted in them understanding the Earth as being tiny and fragile. Along with that came an awareness of the need for protecting it from damage and conflict as a priority.

Thinking about the importance of seeing the Earth within the context of the greater universe, made me realize that the same kind of acuity and clarity typically happens even when we begin to see the bigger picture within our own neighbourhoods and communities.

It reminded me of one community we worked with in rural Alberta. An oil company had provided funding for a community project and a meeting was held to discuss how best it could be spent. By far the largest contingency at the meeting was a group of seniors who were adamant about the most pressing priority being an addition to their seniors centre. However, we initiated a process that had everyone in attendance identifying the existing community assets as well as the areas that needed attention. When others began to hear about challenges related to a lack of affordable housing, the loneliness and isolation many were experiencing, and increased substance abuse, the perception of those seniors changed almost immediately. They realized their senior centre was only one part of a much bigger community system. While the senior centre was important, it was the entire community that needed to be viewed if it were to be protected from damage and conflict and allowed to grow and thrive for the benefit of everyone.

In the end it wasn’t easy, but priorities did end up changing when the focus was placed on the community as a broader system.

For sure, moving beyond our silo-based thinking is a different way of viewing our communities. However, thinking and working from a holistic perspective is the starting point for social profits, businesses, and government to work together to address today’s complex issues. While that may seem to be an overwhelming challenge, it’s important to understand that no one expects you to have all the answers. You just have to call the meeting.

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