The biggest issue we are facing in the worldwide community is – how can open systems survive if the main focus of closed systems is to destroy everything unlike itself?

The ideal of a democracy was an open system. Unfortunately, it has come to mean and/or be synonymous with capitalism and materialism. This was not always true. The ideals of the concept of democracy were originally founded upon the philosophy of the original people of this land and the way they governed themselves. Then, when it came to functionalizing and/or implementing the way of organizing a people, our founding fathers fell back on what they knew, which was a combination of patriarchy, Presbyterian polity, and the British governing system. None of these approaches is really compatible with an ideal of democracy and certainly not what the original people of this land (especially the Cherokee) had been doing. Also, the idea of bringing a diverse group of people together to have the advantage of differing cultures and worldviews was not even considered.

Following are a few of the characteristics of open and closed systems.

I apologize that they are presented dualistically, and perhaps we need to do this first so that we can envision the third option.

Open and Closed Systems

OPEN SYSTEM: Respectful of and invites differences.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Differences are a threat and need to be eliminated.


OPEN SYSTEM: Values candor and honesty.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Protecting the system and its assumption more important than candor and honesty.


OPEN SYSTEM: Open to debate.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Sees debate as an attack.


OPEN SYSTEM: Sees differences as a possibility for new learning.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Differences are a threat and/or don’t exist.


OPEN SYSTEM: States opinions as opinions.

CLOSED SYSTEM: States opinions as fact.


OPEN SYSTEM: Low tolerance for dysfunction in everyone; seeks better functioning for all.

CLOSED SYSTEM: High tolerance for dysfunction when it agrees with closed system.


OPEN SYSTEM: Tries to work with fears.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Fear based—encourages fears.


OPEN SYSTEM: Values working through resentments and grievances.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Holds on to resentments and grievances.


OPEN SYSTEM: Values personal growth and change.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Fears and avoids change.


OPEN SYSTEM: Values innovation.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Clings to the old—rigidly traditional.


OPEN SYSTEM: Willing to reexamine rules.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Clings to rigid rules and believes if they are followed then everything will be okay.


OPEN SYSTEM: Looks at own responsibility in conflict.

CLOSED SYSTEM: An eye for an eye—blames the other.


OPEN SYSTEM: Looks for options.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Seeks revenge.


OPEN SYSTEM: Decisions made in a process that involves head, intuition, heart, whole self.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Decisions made (ostensibly) with head, (heavy unconscious factor) strong reliance on conscious.


OPEN SYSTEM: Respects increasing awareness and bringing unconscious to conscious.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Not concerned with awareness and being more conscious of factors of influence. Fears and tries to control or ignore unconscious.


OPEN SYSTEM: Unconscious and conscious working together.

CLOSED SYSTEM: High level of (unknown) unconscious behavior.


OPEN SYSTEM: Values individuality.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Values conformity.


OPEN SYSTEM: Gathers data and comes to knowing through emotions, body, and full brain.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Makes up mind and gathers data to support. If data doesn’t support decision, discard data.


OPEN SYSTEM: Ambiguity = exciting possibility.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Ambiguity = fear.


OPEN SYSTEM: Expectant of the unknown.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Fearful of the unknown.


OPEN SYSTEM: Has a faith in process.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Denies existence of process.


OPEN SYSTEM: Curious about “except as ye become like little children will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Takes this seriously.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Believe they already have answers they need.


OPEN SYSTEM: Limitless options.

CLOSED SYSTEM: No options.


OPEN SYSTEM: Fosters aliveness.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Fosters caution and deadness of spirit.


OPEN SYSTEM: Encourages participation.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Encourages passivity to authority.


OPEN SYSTEM: Rules are guidelines.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Rules non-disputable.


OPEN SYSTEM: Eager to learn new cultures.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Wants to destroy everything unlike itself.


OPEN SYSTEM: Fights rigidity.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Comfortable with rigid and constricting rules and behavior.


OPEN SYSTEM: Aware that we can participate in and don’t control much.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Based upon the illusion of control.


OPEN SYSTEM: Unknown is an opportunity.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Fear of unknown.


OPEN SYSTEM: Full of faith.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Faith based in rigid control.


OPEN SYSTEM: Based on the process of nature.

CLOSED SYSTEM:  Based upon control of nature.


OPEN SYSTEM: Seeking to live with nature.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Exploitive of nature.


OPEN SYSTEM: Recognizes that dualisms (like this list) set up either-or thinking where usually no choice is good. Focused on the power of process.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Breaks wholes into component parts for control—setting up dualisms.


OPEN SYSTEM: Natural for nature and human.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Artificial for humans and nature.


OPEN SYSTEM: Open to reorganizing itself.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Rigid adherence to status quo.


OPEN SYSTEM: Permeable membrane.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Non-permeable membrane.


OPEN SYSTEM: Respect family values—flexible for different families. Values that family values don’t need to be the same.

CLOSED SYSTEM: Rigid family values—isolated, exclusionary, the correct and only family values.












  1. In the late 1980s, your books led me to totally walk away from what appeared to be a perfect life. I learned from the mistakes that led me to give over my life and the lives of my family to a substance and process addict; considered successful in our society. Society as an addict has become more debilitating as the years have come and gone since I took that step to free myself & those who depended on me. Now we are in the worst crisis since Vietnam and WE, the people, as a group, have given our democracy away, vote by vote and by not protesting the ‘bombs’ in our midst (i.e. Citizens United). I thought of you and your words (as I often have through the years as I recognized process additions) this morning & that led me to your post. Thank you for “keeping on keeping on”.

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