Other versions of systems thinking open our eyes to the possibility that there may be many different big pictures, many different root causes. Given this possibility, we may be wary of the "holistic" label, because it is sometimes attached to a fixed way of constructing big pictures and finding root causes, rather than an open-minded appreciative system.
In my previous post on Bullying, I contrasted two possible interventions
- dealing with a single manifestation of bullying
- dealing with the "root cause" of bullying
There are two problems with the "root cause" approach to solving complex problems. Firstly an epistemological one - it encourages us to imagine that there might be a single identifiable thing called "the root cause". And secondly a moral one - understanding causes is sometimes interpreted as providing excuses for the perpetrators.
If we wish to understand bullying, we may observe that many bullies have a history of being bullied themselves, and so we may come to feel some sympathy for the bullies as well as for the victims. If we see bullying as a chronic problem, we may wish to look for systemic long-term solutions rather than merely quick fixes, and this may include providing some healing for the historic pain suffered by those who are currently inflicting their pain on other people.
If we imagine there is a single root cause, and it is a Good Thing to tackle root causes, then healing may come to take precedence over punishment and retribution. We live in a society where the criminal sometimes seems to get more care and attention than the victim.
Some people go to the opposite extreme. The purpose of toughness is to send a clear message - bullying will not be tolerated. Anything that smacks of sympathy for the perpetrator may dilute this message, and may therefore encourage bullying.
But if we see bullying as a many-headed monster, with no single root cause, it may make more sense to institute a diverse cultural anti-bullying programme with a tough combination of preventative and remedial (redemptive) action.
Some people (from both ends of the political spectrum) are convinced they know what is morally right, and therefore have no need for practical knowledge of what really works.
But in my view, the moral problem and the epistemological problem and the practical problem are inextricably linked. How many causes, how many effects? If we pay proper attention to the causes of bullying, what effect does this actually have? What is the real purpose of toughness?
Wikipedia: 12 leverage points appreciative system root cause
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