Experience tells us this statement is true. Let’s use this as a lens to try to understand the world in its current turmoil. One need only peruse the headlines to see the amount of disruption around us – Brexit, Trump, trouble in Silicon Valley, terror attacks in France, Turkey and Iraq, cops shooting people and people shooting cops – the world does seem a bit mad. How have things drifted to induce these responses?

It is no surprise the distribution of wealth is off kilter. Over the last decade it appears to have gotten worse. But wealth doesn’t entirely explain all this. Certainly Brexit and Trump’s campaign give us insight into the frustration the people of the UK and the US are feeling about their lots in life.  In both cases there are plenty of examples of playing on peoples’ worst fears to mobilize them to action – immigrants, Muslims and business and government Fat Cats are all blamed for their dissatisfaction.

The acts of terror are the desperate efforts of disaffected people to redistribute misery in acts of vengeance. Decades of super-power intervention into the historically troubled part of the world have create a ripe source of young men and women ready to blame others for their predicaments. Our own needs for oil and geographic access have left the region seething, spawning people dedicated to inflicting fear and uncertainty upon us.

The troubling killings here in our country are the products of cops living in fear, under increasing pressure to work with people and communities different from themselves – in some cases ill-equipped to deal with culture, race and religious difference. It is disappointing but not surprising that the people of color in our country have come to fear for their lives – because they are people of color. It is also not surprising that the level of fear is now inviting a disturbed element of society to interpret these times as the moment to act out on behalf of others.

We can also see this principle in action in Silicon Valley. This week’s Boston Globe article about the “Lingering Chill among “unicorns” was an expose about how the lack of value realized by investors was beginning to turn up the heat on “unicorns” (start-up companies based on a compelling idea or promise to disrupt consumer behavior.) It appears the two main sources of investment dollars – venture capitalists betting on a home run, and pension funds – looking for the maximum return as early as possible –are both growing weary of the wait for value to appear. Again, based on the premise of the relationship, the system seems perfectly aligned to deliver skepticism among VC firms (that are not seeing sound management behavior) and pension funds (not seeing quarterly results.) My guess is, as we saw in the Madoff Scandal, greed is driving the investment decision from both sides of the table – entrepreneurs promising what it takes to get the money, investors accepting the promises in hopes of beating the market on returns. Don’t get me wrong – there are some unicorns that have delivered – Uber for one, and we all know that amidst the success and failures – irregular reinforcement is the most powerful motivator of all.

So what do we do? If the system alignment is the problem, systemic change is the answer. We have to begin understanding how the system works – the good and the bad. This is true in countries, communities, organizations and families. We then have to determine how to affect the pressure in the system that makes people act the way they do. Building walls won’t improve immigration any more than killing more people will stop the killing. What Trump and Brexit represent to people is hope for change. Little of the current rhetoric on either side of the pond is focused on systemic change.

Here are some questions for you and yours to ponder:

  • How has our history created the perfect conditions for the outcomes we are now experiencing?
  • How did this set up make sense in the past?
  • What could we try that might shift the pressure or the pattern we are in?
  • How would we measure our circumstances that would certify that we are making progress not just having something new about which to worry?

Good luck. We’ll be back next week.