3. Different Observers

By Chris Chittenden

The distinctions set out below are referenced by both the Newfield Network and Newfield Institute approach to ontological coaching.

It is easy and perhaps intuitive to believe that when we observe the outer world we actually observe it as it is. However, as we have seen, the work of Humberto Maturana speaks to a different interpretation of the human experience.

Maturana’s work, which is aligned with our basic premise, favours the idea that we cannot know the world as it is, only as we observe it based on our structure. And, given we each have a different structure, we each experience it in our own unique way. We are indeed different observers.

As such, how we each see the outer world and experience it is not how it is but our individual interpretation of how it is. Accordingly, human beings live in individual worlds of interpretations. This is vitally important to the ontological approach. By accepting this view, we are no longer dealing with whether or not we are right or wrong in the way we observe the world. Rather we are exploring the power of our interpretations both as individuals and communities. This approach allows us to question the effectiveness of our interpretations and whether they allow for the generation of effective action rather than continually debating who is right and who is wrong.

Again this idea is at the heart of the ontological approach. We are not focusing on the way things are; rather our focus is on our interpretations of our observations. This is critical. If I seek to engage others about the rightness of my views, then I am claiming to have access to the ‘TRUTH’. I am also claiming that others do not have the same access. What would make someone so special they could claim this? This is not to deny the possibility of there being a reality. However, since we only have our own individual experience on which to build our interpretations of how things are, we can only claim to know what is true for us as an individual. We can also build shared interpretations of what is true for us as a community, regardless of effectiveness of these interpretations. This ability allows us to build relationships and coordinate action with others.

For example, many people believe in a monotheistic God whilst many others do not. These two groups both believe in their views, even though only one of them can be true. Yet both groups act on their version of what is true leading to very different sets of possibility and often varying degrees of conflict.

By recognising the human view of the world is one of interpretation, we can put ourselves in the space of being able to judge whether other interpretations might serve us better than the ones we hold. Coming to agreement about our interpretations is the substance of more effective conversations.