The Ox and the Oxpecker ...

The Nature of Relationships

An Oxpecker is an African starling that feeds on ticks found on the hide (or hidden up the nose) of larger animals. The relationship between the two species is said to be mutualistic; each gains benefits from the other.

In Nature, every living thing is in a relationship; each influences the other for better or worse. At least two conditions are created by such interaction; one is complexity, an inter-dependence between all living things; the second is sustainability, the increased likelihood that each living thing will survive.

In Business, complexity rarely produces sustainability. Why do so few organizations, given their collective intelligence, live to be 100 years old? Something individuals often do. Why do different perspectives end up polarizing us? What prevents our differences from being valuable parts of progression? Why can’t we feed each other instead of eat at each other?

Deeper understanding lies in deeper awareness of “the four angles of relationship”, the angle which we approach relationships from. The "four angles" might be easier to understand if described as "two pairs", each discussed below. Although each relationship is prevalent in nature, one emerges as the primary force of evolution. Also known as “Darwin’s Blind Spot”, this relationship is the creator of greater complexity and sustainability.

Unequal relationship; one is up and the other is down. A clear perception of rank, one superior and the other inferior - or at its extreme, one alive and the other dead.

In nature, domination and subordination is often a paradox. Between species, one feeds the other. This obviously means “one up, one down” for the individual specimen. But for the species, both benefit – an essential check and balance that maintains the well being of both. Within families, superiority and inferiority defines roles, each contributing to the greater good; i.e., dominate males produce offspring and defend the pack, subordinate males hunt and often tend the young.

Protective or productive relationships: Separation is reaction; often a response to a negative stimulus. Symbiosis is an intention; an attraction to a positive stimulus. Separation may preserve or protect something, but nothing is gained. Symbiosis on the other hand, is a relationship that benefits those engaged in it.

In nature, “avoidance” is our response to a threat. We flee. Avoidance may also be our reaction to un-attraction; i.e., avoiding something or someone that doesn’t appeal to us. Symbiosis, by nature, fills a need or is an attraction. In its simplest form, it is the response to a mating call. Something we are drawn to. At its extreme, it causes something new to emerge. Emergence is the creation of something new that can’t be explained by understanding the parts that created it. We cannot understand flocking behavior by studying each of the birds. We cannot understand love or marriage by understanding the two people that are in it.

We are not only LIKE nature, we ARE nature. We are constantly influencing or being influenced, for better or worse, in one of the four ways discussed;
  • Dominating over
  • Subordinating to
  • Separating from
  • Engaging with

  • Although each relationship has its place and purpose, only the latter benefits each that participate in it; only the latter enhances the circumstances of all.


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