Brooms & Mats, Ducks & Magnets: Metaphors for Synergism
.Attempts at Enlightening Clarifications
By Ed Aurelio C. Reyes
President, SanibLakas ng TaongBayan Foundation
Full-time student and popularizer of the synergism principle
November 6, 2000
Which metaphors do you prefer in illustrating the synergism principle? Which metaphors would best illustrate your own organization?
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SING metaphors would be a good way to illustrate the principle of synergism. At least some of these metaphors are really synergies in themselves, actual illustrations of synergism in action. Others, though commonly or at least occasionally used, are not as appropriate.
The Broom and the Mat
The coconut-reed broom is widely used in the Philippines where it is called "walis tingting" in the Filipino language. The walis-tingting is a favorite metaphor in illustrating the saying, "in union there is strength." After all, it is easy to break all the reeds one by one but together they are formidable.
This broom goes beyond the saying and illustrates synergism. You would need the standard stoutness of such a broom to sweep the yard, and it would be difficult to sweep even just one-eighth of the same area with just half that stoutness. The thinner that broom gets, the more difficult it is to use it even for sweeping just a miniscule portion of the whole area.
Still, as a symbolic illustration of synergism, the banig or our native mat made out of leaf-strips woven together is apparently better. While synergizers are trying to kick the habit of comparing things, at least judgmentally, the comparison between these metaphors is important to point out a nuance. This is actually an important nuance in the study of synergism as it applies to humans.
Schools of Fish and Formation-Flying
Let us shift temporarily to a comparison between a group of headless fish crowded really very close together in a can of sardines and a school of fish that are swimming together. The swimming fish are not as close together as the sardines in the can, but the latter only crowd together because they are forced to do so by the walls of the can. The swimming fish are together by choice, or if you will, by instinct, not by any container. This is parallel to the saying "birds of the same feather flock together," and is more akin to some equivalent tendencies in physics-- cohesion and gravity.
Flying ducks and flying geese are not only symbolic of synergism. Their V-formation flying actually illustrates a measurable mechanical efficiency even though none of the ducks has read any books on aerodynamics. (more details on this)
Back to the broom and the mat, the reed sticks in the broom are crowded together by a "container," or more precisely, by a band of some other material. And once some of the sticks fall off, the band gets more loose and more and more sticks "escape." To instantly "free" all the reed sticks from the arrangement they had been forced into, you just have to cut or pull off the band. But you cannot "unweave" the woven mat as easily. The very arrangement of the strips in relation to one another keeps them together, and you don't really need an external container.
The Jigsaw Puzzle
Neither the reed sticks nor the leaf strips are predisposed to unite and stay together. The sticks have to be kept together by a band and the strips are kept together by the way they are arranged (woven) around one another. The formation-flying fowls and the schools of fish are much better illustrations of the synergism principle because their natural wisdom or "instinct" makes them social beings comparable to humans and or often even better at it than humans.
The jigsaw puzzle offers another nuance or angle. Each jigsaw puzzle is unique on two counts:
First, it carries its own distinct part of the total picture, such that the whole picture cannot be complete if one particular piece is missing. While there is some truth to the saying that "no one is indispensable," there is at least as much truth to the assertion that "every single individual is very important."
Second, it has a unique shape. Even with a hammer, you cannot force in any piece into the wrong whole, as far as regular jigsaw puzzles are concerned.
And yet in the uniqueness of each piece, all the pieces have two commonalities: First, they are all carrying parts of the same picture. Each piece reflects the beauty of the whole and contributes to the beauty of the whole. Second, they are all shaped to be "predisposed to unite and stay together." They are interlocking. If you pull at the corner piece of a completed puzzle, chances are the entire thing will get pulled too.
If all these points of uniqueness and of commonalities are fully appreciated in the jigsaw puzzle piece as a metaphor for synergism, the synergies we build among humans can benefit greatly from this principle. At present, however, we see many human groupings reflecting more faithfully the images of the walis tingting and the headless sardines in the can!
Gravity and Magnets
Gravity is no longer simplistically viewed in terms of "what goes up must come down," no longer just in the matter of falling. It is an attraction force between two lumps of matter, which Newton had long computed to be directly proportional to the product of the mass of one object and the mass of the other, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the objects' respective centers of gravity. We don't have to go any further on that.
What bears mentioning here is the fact that gravity exists automatically between any pair of two objects (no matter how far apart they are) and that this force is an attraction. There is no opposite equivalent to this, unlike in the case of magnetic forces where there is both attraction and repulsion. This should give us some hint about the grand design of the Universe, or a clue as to why it had to start off with the centrifugal momentum of a "Big Bang".
I actually agonized about magnets for some time. All literature on magnetism that I have come across in books and in the Internet state, as if as an overriding maxim, that "like poles repel, and opposite poles attract." I could easily illustrate synergies among like-minded people, among "birds of the same feather flocking together," and as stated in another article, I am quite comfortable to consider diversity as the dynamic element in synergetic combinations. But how in heaven's name was I to illustrate the synergy of opposite poles?
After months of searching for an answer to this puzzle, I got one that I consider now to be the more valid view of magnets. I no longer focus on the poles (so I didn't even label the north and south poles in my Corel drawing here), for after all the poles are just like entrances and exist points of a highway and what is important is the movement of vehicles within the highway, through and around it. I now look more on the direction of flow of the magnetic force, what is also called the "magnetic flux." And my own substitute to the usual maxim is this: Like flows attract; opposite flows repel.
Like poles will repel as much as it would be illogical to connect the south-bound lane of one highway to the south-bound lane of another, or create a closed passageway between the exit door of one building and the exit door of another (where would all the people go?) or create a closed passageway between the entrance of one building and the entrance of another (who would use it?).
Having gone beyond the "attract-repel" puzzle, I studied magnets more closely, and started moving completely away from the "attract-repel" focus. As a kid I was always playing with magnets, even dismantling the tiny motors in my toy cars just to get the magnets in them. But I was endlessly experimenting on making metal pieces stick to them, and magnetizing ordinary screwdrivers and big nails and making metal pieces stick to those. It was very recently that I started paying more attention to magnets affecting metal pieces that do not stick to them, metal pieces that do not even move towards them, the phenomenon of the magnetic field and its invisible but very real effects.
Having experimented on magnets affecting metal pieces that are just lying still close enough to them, and having read about how some metal pieces gradually become magnets just because a strong magnet nearby had started aligning a growing number of their atoms along a uniform magnetic field, I plunged into a deep study of magnets as metaphors of synergism in a very profound way.
It looks like it's going to be a long but exciting study. But this early, it can be said that because of this phenomenon of "contagious magnetism," the magnet is a unique metaphor for synergism. After all, coconut-palm reeds do not tie themselves together in a bind, the leaf-strips do not weave themselves together into mats and the jigsaw puzzle pieces do not really jump into their proper places, while atoms in a magnetic field align themselves in bigger and bigger numbers and strengthen that field to make more and more atoms to do the same.
Humans in Synergy
Applied to human synergies, the invisible but very real magnetic fields may be compared to mental reinforcements and deeper resonance among "like-minded people" who get to influence others more and more easily (the phenomenon of the "consciousness grid" and the "Hundredth Monkey Experiment"), and may even be comparable to the growing spirituality of a geometrically-increasing number of people. SanibLakas Foundation seeks to provide opportunities for such "like-minded people" to actually meet, interact, mutually enrich one another in terms of insights, and build closer unities and stronger synergies, by our CHOSEN Sites Project. The word "chosen" in this acronym stands for "Centers of Holistic Synergies for Enlightenment"
Humans, having the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions in each individual person, are in the best position to embody and fully use the principle of synergism. But we still have a lot to go. Many of us would invoke free will and choose to separate and alienate ourselves from the Whole Glorious Universe and from one another.
We all have yet to learn that human development and harmony are inseparable in progress like a pair of feet. You need a certain level of human development (away from predispositions to separativeness) to attain harmony; harmony in turn speeds up human development in all its facets. This is the reason why the SanibLakas program thrust for Human Development and Harmony (HDH) carries footprints of someone slowly walking forward and upward.
When it comes to building and evaluating organizations of humans, most of us have to be reminded that a member is supposed to be entering an organization as a full human -- with warm body, mind and spirit -- and a healthy organization would provide systems and structures to synergize members in all three dimensions.
But we see that a lot of organizations in the Philippines that synergize only a few minds but seek to synergize the warm bodies, the muscles, of all the members behind the decisions made by the few minds. Whenever this happens, there is unfairness. The members, instead of being empowered, are getting utilized. In other cases, the muscles of the members are synergized only for applauding the leader or leaders, transforming them virtually into a separate organization, a "fans club" of the latter. These practices give the concept of organization a bad name. They essentially violate the basic human right to form and associations and derive maximum benefit from doing so.
We also see a lot of cooperatives that are not living up to the essence of cooperatives as defined by the Seven Principles of Cooperativism that were adopted by the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), that is, as self-reliant living embodiments of synergism. Many have allowed themselves to become dependent on external resources, and the very influx of external resources even tends to divide the members instead of unifying them to maintain whatever synergies they had originally mustered. These practices give the concept of cooperatives a bad name.
(SanibLakas Foundation, thru the Citizens' Rights Education and Assertion Trainings for Empowerment (CREATE) program, has seminar and consultancy modules for the "Three Synergies in Healthy Organizations.")
Many of us just have not comprehended the principle of synergism fully with all its nuances. (See also the definition article). But even if slowly, the comprehension and appreciation is growing as more and more appropriate metaphors and illustrations are discovered and used.
May we invite you, therefore, to share with us and the others any useful metaphors that you might discover to help us discuss synergism?
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