“Right Balance” Systemically: When Checks & Balances Break Down

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This image is meant to represent different energies within ourselves (also see Necessary Elements to Finding “Right Balance” Interpersonally). For instance, is our time spent working balanced out sufficiently by our time spent relaxing or playing?

Is the amount of energy we expend to give to others sufficiently counterbalanced by time or attention we give to ourselves?

The point in this illustration, apropos of the notion of checks and balances, is that within ourselves – if we are in fact attuned – there are natural checks and balances. We can’t give too much or work too much without there being natural consequences. Conversely, we usually cannot do too little, work too little, give to others too little without there being natural consequences. Our bodies inform us. We get tired, we get depleted. We notice. (Or others give us feedback.)

Interpersonally, and even within small interdependent communities, there are also natural checks and balances. We usually cannot do too little, or work too little, as our co-workers will notice, and hopefully give us appropriate feedback. If there is healthy reciprocity, and a commitment to the well-being of the whole, we may not even wish to give too little. Interpersonally, we cannot give too little to others without there being natural consequences. 

Interpersonally, and even within small interdependent communities, there are natural checks and balances. 

Imagining into this second image, below, picture a small interdependent community. 

If some people are growing food, and others are making clothing, cooking implements, or tools, and still others have the skills to help build shelters – the community needs are met if there is mutuality and sharing. There need NOT be “power-over” relationships if all skills are needed, all members valued, and the wellbeing of the community or village is taken as the highest good, rather than any given individual needing to “thrive” above the others. 

If, perchance, more food were needed, perhaps more people would shift to that endeavor. If there were too many vegetables, but not enough cotton, or not enough sheep for wool, someone could shift to growing cotton or raising sheep. If, instead, more shelters were needed, community members would participate together (like the old-fashioned notion of “barn raisings”).

There are, in such small communities, natural checks and balances, everyone’s needs are valued, everyone’s needs are met. No hierarchy needs to exist, even if one person has more experienced skills than another: the group would share knowledge, share skill-building, because it would be in the greater service of the community at large for all the needed skills to be represented.

These two examples (within oneself and within a small community) exemplify instances where natural checks and balances can occur, and where no “power-over” relationships need arise.

It is only when we, as humans, were beset by greed, and the realization that we could “take more than our share” by exploiting others, that natural checks and balances went out the window.

If someone works himself or herself 10 hours a day, they get tired. If instead, something like slavery comes into being, or people start exploiting workers from third world countries, paying them pennies per hour – then a person can exploit the labor of countless others and not get tired. Checks and balances from natural (internal) consequences go out the window.

Greed and exploitation can go haywire. Power-over/ power-under relationships abound. This third illustration is an attempt to capture that phenomenon.

Once someone is exploiting others, there is no stop to the imbalances that accrue. The rich can get richer, the poor can get poorer, and without “caring” about who gets exploited, nothing can restore “right balance.”

Similarly, once we have lost our “I-Thou” connection with Mother Earth, and we are no longer “tending” to the Earth and working with her, then exploitation and raping and pillaging of the resources from the earth can take place without being modulated by any checks and balances. Even with our current dire Climate Crisis warnings, we humans don’t seem to SUFFICIENTLY care or pay attention.

The image below aims to convey how greed and exploitation break out of the enclosed “circles” in the first two pictures. Instead of there being enclosed circles with “natural” feedback loops, there stop being “natural” consequences that stop us from our actions. For instance, if one person is exploiting the labor of others (such as occurred in slavery) the slave owner does not experience the “natural consequences” of the exploitation. Those being worked too hard experience the consequences, but the exploiter (having broken the “natural laws” of checks and balances) continues unchecked.

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