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Holonomous People

I recently attended a professional learning workshop and was introduced to the term holonomy. Holonomy was coined by Hungarian-born author and journalist Arthur Koestler in 1972 and is used to describe human systems theory. Koestler described holonomy as “the dual tendency of every individual to preserve and assert his or her individuality as a proud and quasi-autonomous whole while functioning as an interdependent part of a larger system.” It transcends individual autonomy such that it is impossible for autonomous individuals to function without connection to a larger whole.

In an educational setting such as ours, each student and staff member is an autonomous, self-asserting, self-modifying individual. However, every individual is also part of a larger whole, who both influences and is influenced by the attitudes, values, and behaviours of the College culture. Unsurprisingly, this can cause tensions and conflicts, especially when the beliefs and values of the individual (the ‘part’) do not correspond to those of the organisation (the ‘whole’).

To ensure these tensions are minimised, developing holonomy consists of three key outcomes. The first is to support people in becoming independent and self-actualising. This implies that individuals will be self-modifying and self-renewing through reflective processes. The second is for individuals of the school community to be able to self-regulate and be regulated within the norms, values, and goals of the school system: that is, to function interdependently. Lastly, there is the desire for individuals to become students of holonomy – “with the capacity to transcend and continually learn from part/whole dualities”, ultimately embracing tensions and conflicts.

Being a holonomous person is a challenge today. So much binary exists in all aspects of society where individuals are pitted against one another, competing for their own self-interests, ambitions, and aspirations. We see this constantly play out politically, economically, and imperialistically. Yet where is it getting us? In many ways, we can argue that we are more divided than ever before. We also see this play out within education.

As a Jesuit institution, we have an opportunity to be countercultural. Our values and beliefs around social justice, being men and women for others, reflecting deeply, and seeking the ‘greater good’ are essential in contributing to a better society and better world. Therefore, it is important that we seek and provide opportunities to develop holonomy in all our students and staff. Whilst we want them to be autonomous and self-directed human beings, we believe that they and the larger system they belong to will benefit from the integrative beliefs and values of the College.

Therefore, within this context, the formation of our staff and students is arguably the ability to facilitate each person in becoming more reflective and resourceful such that they become more effective and skilful at contributing to a larger system, thus producing more holonomous people.

Kain Noack
Head of Studies and Innovation

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