Upgrading Our Operating System

Everything has an operating system ~ a set of rules govern how things flow ~ whether conscious or unconscious. Take water as an example. It will always seek the lowest point to rest. Its nature is to flow downward until it can no longer find a way deeper. For people, that operating system is based on our internalized system of beliefs that form the way we construct our relationship to the world. These beliefs are formed by our experiences, particularly early influences such as parents and other relations who provide feedback to us about us. We form our approach to relating to, or managing, the world around us based upon these beliefs. Once formed, our operating system is incredibly difficult to change.

Part of becoming an adult is taking responsibility for the way in which we interact with the world. But for most of us, this process is unconscious. If it remains unconscious, it will become more and more entrenched the same way that the constant flow of water along the same path will eventually produce a Grand Canyon. If we engage our will and the support of others, we can make fundamental changes to the way we operate by shifting our vision, our beliefs, our communication, our values, and our actions which will eventually shift our conditioned way of approaching the world.

In a recent “Bones” session with a client, unpacking a relational challenge she was experiencing, the difference between operating out of fear and out of love came up in contrasting the way that men and women are conditioned in this culture to deal with problems. Inevitably, through facilitating the Bones guidance work, one cannot help but reflect on one’s own association to what arises. It became clearer to me, that although my life’s work and personal desire is to move out of love, just how much of my relational orientation is still trapped within the archetypal male operating system which is anchored in control and competition ~ in essence ~ FEAR. Yes, men are fundamentally afraid ~ even we who project that we are enlightened and in touch with our feminine side. This seemed like a revelation to me. But my love would gently tell you if asked, she has been trying to get me to see this for years. It is so difficult to see ourselves, particularly if we are moving from what appears to be our strengths. We have to engage with others and have the courage to ask for feedback in order to understand and then alter our operating systems. The smarter we are, the harder it seems, as we toy around with the window dressing without addressing who we really see through the looking glass.

The challenge is, we have relied upon this operating system for our survival and identity formation since our first moment of self-consciousness. Our survival system screams “DANGER” if we even think of adjusting our fundamental paradigm, and we instinctively retreat into our standard operating procedures. Even as we become conscious, we will construct a complex set of devices to make ourselves think we are being different, when really, we are just doing the same thing a different way so that it looks to ourselves (and maybe others) that we are doing something different.

As an example, I saw myself as incompetent as a child due in large to my ADD and Dyslexia. My initial way of controlling my circumstances was to be a clown which would distract and endear others, preventing them from identifying my incompetence. Much later in life, I figured out that I that I was kind of smart, and shifted my operating system to exhibiting the areas in which I was smart. This worked to reinforce my own sense of self by isolating my interactions to my strengths, but it never really addressed the fear of being exposed. So the underlying driver remained hiding my inadequacy ~ it is just the strategy that changed.

My partner has done more to unearth a path to really freeing this core belief than any other single influence. Her operating system is to love what is flawed. This regularly sends my internal operating mechanisms into chaos as my operating system attempts to hide my flaws, as my desire to love and be loved attempts reveal them to her. My operating system usually wins. But its grip is starting to slip after 8 years of internal back flips.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Thus, the chaotic feeling is the sign that something is shifting. It is our job to both continue to function, and to hang in with the chaotic anxiety long enough to get the lesson at the same time.

Though water is water, if we add heat to it, it becomes free of its standard operating system and becomes a vapor that can rise into the sky in the form of clouds, or if we cool it enough, it will form hexagonal patterns of frost on our windows. We too can add light to the shadows of our operating system, and illuminate and free up our standard ways of being to choose to move beyond unnecessary fear toward connection. The truth is, our fear keeps our power encased in a useless dance of distancing and control. Let us instead, choose to embrace our flaws, our hidden places, and see what amazing patterns will emerge if we just chill out. Time to UpGrade…


  1. Hello! This post could not be written any better!
    Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
    He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him.
    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Dan. This content of this post forms the center of my beliefs about existence and change. You might also be interested in Cohado [ http://Cohado.com ], a game I designed to offer a different operating system from the competitive one that is creating so much waste on the planet. It is also the tool I use for what is referred to as “bones” work in the post you read. Its rules are maximize assets for the community, and minimize waste. It looks as though you already play by those rules from the bit I read on your site about your research work with coffee growers in Rwanda. The game is designed very similarly to the structure of the social networks you are using to test for innovation receptivity. We are using this model to do community development and economic development in Baltimore [ http://IngomaFoundation.com ] . I look forward to continued connection.

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