First Key Insight: Nature Functions in Wholes

Many of us have heard the cliché the whole is greater than the sum of its parts as a way to describe holism. A better description of holism is that Nature (including humans) functions in wholes. In other words, what we view as “parts” of a whole are merely different aspects of that whole. To view it as a part suggests we can remove it or replace it and the whole will remain the same—like a machine.

In taking a holistic perspective, we recognize we must pay attention to the relationships that exist between these different aspects of the whole. In this way we can build or make use of the symbiotic relationships necessary for effective resource management. The exceptional Holistic Management educator Bruce Ward explained that there are two key ways to describe the whole:

  • You look outward from your whole self to the greater wholes of which you are a part; and
  • You look inward to the smaller wholes that are a part of you.

If you want to effectively manage your land resources, improve biodiversity status, increase production, create profit, and lead your desired quality of life, it is important to understand that you cannot change or control one thing in one area without having an impact on something else in another. In this way, each whole is unique because of the different variables and relationships at play.

First Key Insight: Individual parts do not exist in nature, only wholes, and these form and shape each other

Not only is the world more complex than we understand, it’s more complex than we can EVER understand. If we base our plans and decisions on controlling a single variable, we will be greatly disappointed. Ecosystem, economic, and social processes are highly complex, with many moving parts. A holistic approach gives us a better chance of tracking all of the moving parts and adjusting as the unexpected happens.

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