Malaysia is outraged at the recent rape and
murder of young girls.
There are many sincere reactions from various
sectors : government, legislation, NGO, communities, etc. in either
condemning such cruel and brutal act and / or seeking effective
The intent of this article is to explore and
understand the fundamental structural forces that drive the social
ills and more importantly the relationship with the action we take.
Eventually we are interested to know the effectiveness and whether
significant profound change can take place.
do so, we start by examining the pattern of events and the pattern of
responses and the consequences of action taken.
We further explore the larger dimension so as not
to get caught in stressful reaction to solve problem without a clue of
the shape and form of the larger picture.
The main benefit of such an approach is avoidance
of fire-fighting reaction to problems, whereby solution to perceived
problem in isolation, often time, produces a) more serious problem in
the long run, b) counter-productive, c) problem may initially seems
solved but over time, a more serious un-intended side-effect develops,
d) drain of resources, time and money and energy and yet not producing
any tangible outcome.
From the System Theory perspective, if the
underlying structural forces can be understood, we can better seek
leverage with least energy and effort to produce the maximum and
Events and Response Pattern
On 17th January, 2004, a 10-year old
girl was raged and murdered, reportedly by a security guard and other
accomplices. The nation was already angry to read the news of the
other 10-year old girl raped and stabled to death in Sabah on 8th
In both cases, the rapists and murderers are drug
This time our outrage is un-containable due to a)
within a short time, 9 days, another major brutal crime, with
recalling memory of similar assaults on young children in the past, b)
earlier the culprit was the drug addicts, this time, a uniformed
security guard, who most people will assume “safe” people. But
this guard has eight previous convictions
This tragic incident triggers various responses
from the society. As of today (21st Jan. 2004), attention
is directed at a) the corporation that hires the security firm, b) the
registration, control and issuance of license to commercial security
firms, c) proposal of rapist registration system, d) re-look at the
drug addicts rehabilitation system, e) proposal to include mental
health as a subject in school, ….
As time passes, the list can increase if the sentiment and anger
These are legitimate and logical solutions.
Whether the proposed solutions are implemented
fully or not, we would like to examine the effectiveness and the
possible complexity involved in solving man-system dynamic.
Reactive Response from the Public
Public opinion or in this case, a concerted
outcry, is a powerful societal force. The concerned authorities,
government, organization or some individuals have to take some action
appropriately in relation to the strong opinions.
It is the mass media, newspapers, TV ,radio or
Internet that bring news to the public. Hence public react to news
broadcasted or published. That becomes a problem. If there is no
serious news, there is no public response. Hence if there is no more
child molest, rape or murder case for some time, the public outcry
will subside, and soon the voice disappears, until such time another
similar or more serious crime is committed again.
At the same time, there will be other disturbing
news. Remember, not long ago, it was the reckless bus drivers, killing
the many in the bus on the highway. There were public outcry ago,
especially seeing tragic accident scene of innocent students,
house-wives. The response pattern was quite similar like today, there
were task-force, new legislation, new solutions. Come another holiday
peak seasons, or festivals, road accidents and deaths rate increase
When there is less or diminishing public
attention over the passage of time, the authorities or parties
concerned who are supposed to implement the solutions will generally
tend to be lax. This human weakness will eventually lead to the same
problem or more serious problems.
Event and public response at the material time is
a pattern. But then such behavioral pattern is non-effective as far as
making a profound change for the better is concerned. Hence we cannot
really count on this supposedly powerful society force – the public
opinions or response, until a critical point is reached that the
masses forces the system to change completely.
Furthermore, public response is like shooting a
moving target, which changes every now and then. Today this problem,
tomorrow another problem. Attention and energy get dispersed and
This behavior is typical in organization setting.
Public outcry is like management reaction to issues today safety
accident, tomorrow productivity, then quality issue, then employee
Reactive Response from the Authority
Authorities or entities will usually with utmost
good intention take corrective and preventive action, mostly in
response to public opinion and / or major events. As we had discussed
earlier, the proposed solutions are mostly logical and legitimate.
But the proposed solution can again present
another problems. The solution-boundary will become a system by
itself. But no system is totally isolated, nor can it be
compartmentalized like in a scientific laboratory doing a controlled
For example :
It is not just the corporation security guards
recruitment system or hiring of commercial security firms system, as
the more thorough tracking system of criminals slipping into the
uniforms is not in the hand of the corporation or commercial security
companies. The tracking system may involve the prison system, the
police system, and the registration system. Even with a reasonable
tracking system in place, the corporation and the commercial
securities firms having profit as the bottom-line focus, create a
competitive atmosphere that can be detrimental to the tracking system,
as there are always some clever and short-circuiting way to get the
We see that the many sub-systems are
inter-related and interdependent with each other.
As we trace further the root problem of the drug
addicts, something before these dangerous people slip into the
security guard system, we re-look at the rehabilitation system. Again
we cannot take this as another isolated system, as it is linked to
many other systems and variables, like family system (whose children
are drug addicts), the schooling system (whose students are drug
addicts), the societal acceptance system ( accepting the rehabilitated
drug addicts to make decent living for a new life), the recruiting or
capturing of drug addicts into the rehabilitation center system. These
difficulties are on top of the very internal problems of the
rehabilitation system like inadequate facilities, budgets, qualified
and trained personnel, effectiveness of the model of rehabilitation
Earlier, when incest cases and morality issues
made headlines, the response was massive crackdown on illegal VCD,
especially on X-rated movies. The underlying thinking was less
exposure to yellow culture, less of sex offenses. This is again a
direct cause and effect logic that cannot hold the water too long.
If we want to continue to trace further back, we
could identify broadly the education as the key and critical variable
to tackle - Education at home, and education at school. But that
itself will open up another big can of worms.
Home education, when most parents are under
pressure and stress and live hectic life, in pursuit of making decent
and secure living, or others wanting to create unlimited wealth, there
is little time for children, or lack of parenting and communication
skills to effect closer relationship. And educational system in
schools, well, the pursuit is higher academic excellence, difficult
and academically poor students are expelled.
Where do these children and students turn to?
Again, in parallel with organization life, there
are multiple systems and processes, but seldom cohesively linked and
interact with each other to produce the overall intended outcome. For
example, Safety Health Environmental system, Quality system, HR
system, Production system, Financial system, Incentive system etc.
each is defensively manned, guarded and protected by the
compartmentalized position-holders in the hierarchy.
The multi-variable complexity of Societal Vision
If we take Malaysia as a single entity like an
organization, there are many other systems or components that make up
the entire living system. Besides the above cited examples of drug
addicts rehabilitation system, criminal tracking system, commercial
security registration and control system, corporation outsourcing
system, education system, there are many others like political system,
economic system, infra-structure system, foreign policy and trade
system and so on and so forth.
The key question is :what are that fundamental
structures that drive the many sub-systems we create, producing the
pattern of outcomes that we experience? What are the key relationships
among all these multi-variables giving rise to what overall pattern of
These fundamental questions are complex and
difficult, yet important to address. Otherwise we fall into the trap
of sub-optimizing the system, isolating a system from the entirety
with solutions that produce other un-intended negative consequences.
We will be forever in the fire-fighting mode, putting off one fire,
then move on to another fire to tackle.
In recent time in the newspaper we read the
various issues in Malaysia. brutal crimes on young and innocent, drug
addicts, road accidents, corruptions, not many years ago the economic
crisis and its repercussions until today,
We need to explore with searching questions, for
What is the relationship with the road accidents
and the rape-cum-murder of young children? What is the common thread
between corruptions and the two tragic events we just mentioned? What
are the common links between corruption, drug addicts and education
system? What are the interactions among social ills, economic crisis,
political problems, terrorists, and many other symptoms or issues?
What factors contribute to a particular symptom,
is also contributing to another problem? In what way the different
sets of factors interact to produce another unforeseen problems.
Web of Relationships
With the above exploratory questions, we need to
understand the web of relationships arising from the entire living
system that give rise to the symptomic issues and problems we faced.
In a complex system involving human being, a
problem is not localized, nor can it be isolated for treatment. Try to
take padanol to treat the headache daily when the root of the problem
is a tumour in the brain, symptomic relief is achieved at the expense
of possible death without discovery of the cancer.
We have a pictorial representation of the web of
relationship of the many issues we discussed in this paper.
When we explore and trace every of these symptoms
or problems faced by the society like what we did briefly in the above
case, we will find a set common cores embedded in the system and in
us, the humankind.
We need to have the ability to deal with multiple
and complex variables and see the pattern of relationships among them
in order to under the underlying structures that drive behavior and
producing the many outcome we experience.
By doing so, we don’t need to feel guilty of
our reactive responses from one issue to another issue like what we
described in the “Reactive Response from the Public”, nor do we
engage in futile effort tackle issues and sub-systems in a
non-cohesive and fragmented manner.
We will be able to see the whole forest, seeking
better leverage, with good consciousness of possible consequences to
Learning Society & Community of System Thinkers
The above described inquisitive approach to
understand the living system as an integral whole is not our habit of
thinking. Ever since we were young we have been taught to break things
into pieces to analyze and solve the problem. We are trained to
fragment things and become skillful fire-fighters. While we are busy
chopping trees and branches with good intention, we forget how to view
the forest as a whole.
We need to develop new skills in systems
thinking, not just logic, cause-and-effect and box-thinking.
When we build a community of systems thinkers, we
begin to realize a learning society, daily increasing our capacity to
create the results we truly desire – not wanting to see another
innocent child raped and murdered, not experiencing corruption but
integrity, no road accidents, no economic crisis, not terrorists but