What questions are you holding?

Polarised? Segmented? Adversarial? Are these questions creating the world we see?

With elections looming only a few weeks away here in New Zealand one of the six members of our small and global Human Systems Dynamics (HSD) learning group pointed to the emerging polarity amongst political parties between Health VS Economy. She was interested in unpacking what this meant, and if other people in the group were seeing the same elsewhere in the world. 

Just in case you are wondering what HSD is, Glenda Eoyang, founder of the Human Systems Dynamics Institute describes it as a complexity-informed approach that inspires action for intentional change at any scale and in any context of human interaction. So, let us see how this worked in practice for us.

Without the HSD lens (theory and practice), we probably would have started advocating for whatever viewpoint we had and were most aligned. In our case, and as we only had 30 minutes for this, we scaffolded our session on two key HSD components Inquiry and the Adaptive Action Cycle. After finishing with this process, I walked away with a different, more expansive understanding of where to next.


The HSD way of conceptualising issues as tensions rather than problems has been beneficial in finding movement and action when you see none. We started our WHAT- by asking what other interdependent pairs, polarities or tensions were contained within that first set.

Phrasing it this way moved us from VS. which implies choosing one or another to BOTH/AND to Health AND Economy.

Stating it as Health and Economy is also not representative of the complexity that lies within. Let me explain, in a complex system, there is more than one polarity at play at any one time, and they hardly ever exist as an opposite to each other.

Moreover, a more accurate picture of what is happening in a complex system is that the final critical factors lie along a continuum between the two extremes.

So what?

In this part, we meaning make what we saw as we continue to unpack these tensions. 

We ended up with further questions and new insights about the topic. Some of these sprang out of our different contexts and backgrounds.  

  • Are the narratives same and different about this topic across the world?
  • What is the same and different between the economy and health? Both require/ involve networks of humans.
  • What is health? Optimal health is a goal. Health is a human right.
  • Aren’t they both infinite games?
  • What choices do people have for health? Is there equity of access to health?
  • What does a healthy economy look?
  • The health workforce: how is the economy related to that?
  • How can we make health and the economy coherent?
  • Having a choice is privileged!
  • How can we frame a better debate? A more informed discussion?

We were privileged in having Stewart Mennin, a well-known expert in Health Professional Education, as part of our small learning group, an American ex-pat who now lives in Brazil.

Now, what?

Each of us walked away with our action point—mine was all about creating a context for more in-depth and richer conversations. If you can’t fully understand the texture of your context, be able to zoom in and zoom out, you are bound to respond in the same way by choosing your preferred pole or viewpoint—we are bound to get stuck and undone.

One thing that became quite apparent to me – when holding questions that lack curiosity and need for learning, we are bound to stray and distract us from finding a way forward. I see/listen that the dominant plot in most press conferences and speeches is to advocate. I sometimes wonder, how will politicians respond, if we were to ask what did you learn from that? And what will you do different or the same next time around? Maybe if we asked broader questions and taught people how to explore inquiry as a capability- we would nudge the political landscape to change.  

We are all guided by questions, consciously or unconsciously. What are the questions that you are holding? Are these questions that promote expansiveness or have the feel of an interrogation? Are you seeking to understand or to condemn? In a world that is so full of opinions, questions that expand our thinking, our hearts, and our being, maybe the only way to create patterns of peace and renewal. 

With gratitude to Glenda Eoyang, Royce Holladay, Paula White, Sim Phei Sunn, Celeste Benavides, Donna Lee and Stewart Menin.