Syntropy: Boundaries that Breathe

Tara C. Trapani

Today we’re going to return to our exploration of our blog theme for the year: Syntropy. And we’ll be exploring a few of the themes in this 2022 article from the Syntropic World site: “The Cosmology of a Syntropic World. Do we choose syntropy over entropy in all we do?

According to this article, there are 6 principles of Syntropy. Some seem straightforward and expected, such as the microcosmic/macrocosmic principle (#6: We live in a fractal Universe. How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale). And others, such as the “twelveness” of all are a bit more elusive to those of a less mathematical mind, such as I. But the one that really grabbed me was the third principle. It seems simple: “All organs within a healthy organism work together as agents within a community.” I would argue this is the fundamental principle of Syntropy, as I understand it. As we’ve stated before, it is essential that every element of the system is somehow contributing to the healthy functioning of the system. As the article states: “We know that a forest requires the whole to work. If we remove the ‘weeds,’ plant the forest in neat rows, and remove the insects—the forest will fail to thrive.” Exactly—we know this and see it played out in healthy ecosystems devoid of human interference and in agricultural methods that respect this truth, such as most Indigenous growing methods, Syntropic Agroforestry, and Biodynamics.

But it was what came next that really caught my eye and gave me ample food for thought:
There is also a boundary to every healthy system. Often this boundary is a membrane, not a hard wall. The boundary itself is alive and changing, adapting to change. A cell membrane allows certain elements to flow in and out while also preventing some elements from leaving and others from entering. Humans build rigid fixed walls, be they literal walls, or rules as walls. The moment we do this, we are in an entropic state. Hard, fixed and unchanging is death. Boundaries need to be alive. They need to breathe, move, and adapt. Create the right boundary for a context, ecology or life, and the life inside the boundary will thrive. If the life, or lives inside the boundary are not thriving, then we might attend to the boundary as the priority, rather than try to ‘fix’ the people inside.

Our default is to fix people. To seek to change them (another fool’s game). Instead, we might invest in creating better boundaries and more beautiful contexts and ecologies. You have probably experienced this – how you come alive in certain places or conditions? Take a struggling child from a context of oppression and shame and place them in a context of love and discovery, and we develop children who grow to be healthy adults.
Too often we focus on trying to fix the person. 

This resonated so deeply. How often do we focus on the contents and forget about the all-important container? This state that our world is currently in—banging our heads against the wall, trying to change each other and convince each other of our own platform or position—is a state of entropy. If we continue down this same path, things will continue to dis-integrate and decay. But what if instead the answer was not to focus on changing the other, but on building a better container—what if instead of investing our energy in debates, we “invest in creating better boundaries and more beautiful contexts and ecologies.” Automatically, I think our minds go to the political structure when we think of a collective boundary or container, and then the feelings of futility wash in, as the situation in this country, and many others, is quite challenged (to say the least). And though our political system is certainly one container for our collective co-habitation of our town, state, country, it is by far the only possibility.

I recently read this quote from Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” I smiled from ear to ear when I read it, as it is simply another way of stating one of my favorite quotes of all time, by Dr. Edward Bach, framed on my office wall: “To struggle against a fault increases its power, keeps our attention riveted on its presence, and bring us a battle indeed… To forget the failing and consciously to strive to develop the virtue which would make the former impossible, this is true victory.” (Heal Thyself, 1931)

And I think that’s what we’re talking about, here. We’ve been struggling for so long against the faults. Important work, for sure, but it’s not enough and we’re running ourselves into the ground as anxiety and grief—eco and otherwise—sap our energies and hope. Instead, let’s imagine a new model together that can at least supplement, if not supplant, the old ways.

What could these new containers look like in our current world? Can we start to explore this together? I’m struck by a humorous analogy, if you'll allow me. Most people know what ravioli is: cheese or other filling surrounded by a boundary of pasta. But there is another lesser-known kind called gnudi. No external boundary is needed—the ricotta forms its own “skin” when boiled. The contents create their own healthy integral boundary, instead of needing one externally imposed around them. I think we can begin to create these containers, in spite of our wider political challenges. What kind of societal containers could we create ourselves, using syntropic principles. My mind goes back to the local, of course—perhaps community organizations formed around these principles, dedicated to the flourishing of all—human and more-than-human? That’s where my thinking travels, based on my life experience. There are so many organizations who have been doing such hard work for decades. But for me what we're looking towards is principle 3: all of the elements are interconnected–the whole community is integral to the shift, instead of merely a smaller number of people shouldering the weight and trying to convince the masses to listen. And I think that's where Ecological Civilization is a concept and framework that could also be very fruitful here, if it can be adapted to new countries and continents.

But I think we all need to creatively brainstorm and bring each of our gifts and experiences to this endeavor and to our communal spaces. Local is one way, but maybe someone else could conceive of way to create these containers globally, online. As the forest example above clearly demonstrates, authentic syntropic organization and growth does not need to be—and in fact cannot be—neat orderly rows. There is room here for messiness, for experimentation, for exploration. Their relationship is complementary—as Syntropy increases, entropy decreases and the syntropic momentum picks up speed and becomes self-generating. And our flawed beautiful, messy attempts could all nourish and feed that dynamic momentum.

*Note: if you have not heard the latest installments from The Collected Thoughts of Thomas Berry audio collection, I highly recommend it, as it relates directly to what we're talking about here today: the societal structures, what is broken and contributing to the entropy, and how they could be reinvigorated and reimagined towards this effort. 
The Four Establishments I
The Four Establishments II