Changing the way we make decisions

Maybe it's time to take a look at the underlying ways we operate

by Sandra Halpin, reprinted from Holistic Resource Management Quarterly with permission
ur decision-making drives everything we do from the simplest decisions made almost unconsciously to the bigger decisions we ponder sometimes for years before making. Every time you choose (or choose not) to do anything, this affects the world around you.

Most people don't spend a lot of time thinking about how they make decisions they simply make their decisions the way humans have since the Stone Age: based on expert opinion, past experience, research results, peer pressure, intuition, common sense, cost-effectiveness, profitability, laws and regulations, compromise, sustainability, etc. And it is this process that is largely responsible for the state of the world in which we now live. Some 20-odd past civilizations have failed, and the only thing these civilizations had in common was the way humans made decisions.

Chaos or complexity theorists are beginning to discover a startling new scientific truth: that extinction is not necessarily the result of natural disasters (meteors, ice ages, droughts, etc.) as we once thought, but rather, that extinction is the result of behaviors.

Since our actions (behaviors) are determined largely by our decisions, only through changing the way we make decisions will we truly be able to change the way we affect the world in which we live and ensure that civilization is sustainable in the long run.

Our ecosystem is so complex that, with conventional decision-making, we cannot possibly comprehend or predict the myriad affects each decision we make will have on the ecosystem as a whole.

Holistic Resource Management (Holistic Management) is the only decision-making process we know of that ensures each decision made is (simultaneously) ecologically, economically and socially sound essential to long-term stability and sustainability. Even the new "integrated resource management" or "ecosystem management or "sustainable development" approaches, although well intentioned, still rely on conventional decision-making, which we know will fail in the long run, as it has throughout history.

What is Holistic Management?

Holistic Management is a whole new management approach that is helping people individuals, families, businesses and whole communities, urban and rural improve the quality of their lives and generate real wealth, while simultaneously restoring the environment and enhancing biodiversity

While Holistic Management itself is a relatively simple process, there are several underlying concepts that must be understood in order to practice Holistic Management.

A whole new perspective

Holistic Management is based on the theory of Holism, a concept first recognized and articulated in 1926 by South African philosopher and statesman Jan Smuts in his book Holism and Evolution. Simply stated, Holism is the idea that nature only functions in wholes, rather than "interconnecting parts" and that nature will never be understood by studying the "parts."

For example, if you were to learn everything there is to know about oxygen and hydrogen, you would still have no idea of the properties of water (which is comprised of oxygen and hydrogen). Likewise, we rarely think of a person as a mass of interconnecting parts (arms, legs, organs, etc.) but rather as a whole human being. This same human can exist within another whole: a family; and this whole exists within another whole: a community; and so on. Rarely would we refer to a community as a group of "interconnecting parts."

This distinction, while perhaps sounding a bit esoteric, is especially pertinent when trying to comprehend the natural world our ecosystem. Work done by biologist Robert Paine demonstrates the importance of understanding "wholes within wholes." Paine sectioned off an area of an ocean bay containing 15 different species of marine life. Every day he removed one species the starfish. Within a year, the total number of species in the area had dropped to eight Removing one species (starfish) resulted not in a loss of one species, but instead, it interrupted a whole, functioning community, and a dramatic loss of biodiversity ensued.

As humans, we cannot possibly comprehend the myriad relationships occurring within wholes. To begin practicing Holistic Management, however, we need to begin thinking holistlcally recognizing that the world only functions in wholes, and that all our decisions impact the ecosystem upon which our very existence depends.

Making holism practical

Holism is a perspective, a way of looking at the world. We can talk about Holism 'til the cows come home, but it won't help us learn to actually manage our lives, our land (resources), or our finances more holistically. Holistic Management was developed specifically to make Holism practical to provide humans with the practical means to make decisions that more accurately mirror the way nature functions, and thereby ensure that our civilization is truly sustainable over time.

The holistic decision-making process

Since land and/or resources cannot be managed in isolation from the humans tied to (and dependent on) these resources, in Holistic Management we only manage in "whole" situations (whole farms, whole firms, whole communities, etc.) which includes the people, the resource base, and the wealth that can be generated from this resource base.

Once this "whole" has been defined, Holistic Management then begins by developing a single, "holistic goal" that includes three components:

1) the quality of life you and your group desire, based on your values;

2) what you need to produce to create this quality of life;

3) a description of the resource base as it has to be far into the future in order to sustain what you produce.

All decisions are then tested against this holistic goal using seven specific testing guidelines to ensure the quality of life you seek is attained, and that all your decisions are truly sustainable: humanly, economically and ecologically.