Symbiosis in LO LO11330

Jacqueline Mullen (
Mon, 9 Dec 1996 15:03:48 GMT

Replying to LO11270 --

Responding to my own post, LO11270,

I mis-diagnosed my "discomfort" with what I will now call the
"human system as plottable symbiotic system" metaphor. A comment made by
M. McM. in LO11288 sparked this revelation. Silly me, fell into some
lop-sided trappings. Suddenly symbiosis has become quite a fun metaphor
for me after all...

Michael said, in a different context:
> measure your theories by the experience they produce.

Precisely my attitude regarding "measuring" human relationships.
I would paraphrase: "you measure your metaphor use by the experience they

In the course of even a few minutes, an interaction amongst
individuals may evoke any number of metaphors personally held about
relationships, a kaleidoscope of conceptual constructs shifting along in
the course of action and conversation. Each metaphor of the moment will
hide and highlight different aspects of that relating process, influencing
one's judgements about the quality of experience, or which of various
actions to take, subsequently, directing further interaction. The
important point is that all metaphor is a partial structuring, and the
different metaphors are most likely quite contradictory of one another,
often forming conceptual gestalts. I can scarcely imagine that there
might be one single, ultimate metaphor any of us use to structure our
relationships. Although, if I had to choose one to favor it would be
"relationship is a collaborative, improvisational work of art". I like
the aspects of the relationship it highlights.

Instead of having anything against "relationship as symbiosis", (I
would, however, implicitely include all three forms as inseparably engaged
in a mystery dance of interaction), I would take exception to the use of
"relationship as mutual symbiosis", "relationship as comensual symbiosis"
and "relationship as parasitic symbiosis" as separate metaphorical devices
used as "instruments" or "lenses" with which to measure, judge, or rank
the relationship itself, in an attempt to come up with variables in a
tit-for-tat systemic analysis of human rapports. Sure, it can be done,
however, I personally am skeptical of such attempts in measurement and
analysis. A mapping out the "who does what to whom" is what I would find
constricting, reductive, and, in my opinion, counterproductive, but, I
don't see this approach as inherent in the symbiosis metaphor itself.

Michael's comment made me realize my approach to "measuring"
relationships. I measure them by the experience they produce. I "trust"
what I consider a vastly complex, structuring process (arising out of
simple interactions over time?) and instead direct my attention to
subjective outcomes. From my vantage point I consider... are we
communicating freely and openly, is there tension, is there trust and
respect, or contempt and hostility, is it playful or formal? Only at this
point would I try to map out our "processes", if need be. Given there is
a specific "why" of our relationship, what we might need to accomplish
together. However, from my point of view, the relationship itself entails
a rather amorphous, open-ended, collaborative process of inquiry,
feedback, and reflection. And, sure, this would reflect my predilection
for the metaphor "relationship is a collaborative, improvisational work of
art." It's not based on barter. I feel that by taking for granted that
the relationship is based on mutuality in the act of creation, equal
partners are encouraged, through an introspection into their personal
contribution towards the "mutual aesthetic", to self-expression, whatever
their particular diverse forte', tanglible or otherwise, happens to be.
And, at times, this artistic work-in-progress may never even take a final,
knowable form.


Jackie Mullen

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