4. The Legitimate Other

By Chris Chittenden

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

Accepting each individual lives in their own world of interpretation allows for a further understanding that for each of us our own world of interpretation is legitimate for us. The idea of legitimacy here relates to authenticity or genuineness. How I observe and interpret the world is how I observe and interpret the world. It is valid for me as, at this point in time, I cannot observe it in any other way given my current way of being.

We can most effectively engage with others if we hold that the way they observe and act in the world is legitimate for them. We term this holding them as a ‘legitimate other’. As we have discussed, everyone is a different observer of the world and each one of us is always interacting with people who have different interpretations of the world to what we hold. Sometimes these interpretations are markedly different from ours and this can create a significant challenge for us in dealing with others at times. This can be particularly valid if we find ourselves in a work or personal relationship that is ongoing.

It is also useful to recognise our own way of observing is valid for us based on our way of being at the moment of observing. Rather than invalidating our interpretations, we can recognise those interpretations may not be as useful as they could be and seek to shift our way of being to develop better interpretations in the future. This is the stuff of ‘second order learning’ where we explore the observer we are.

This form of learning is an act of unfolding and living in the question of our ways of being.

If we are to hold others as ‘legitimate others’, it is imperative we seek to take care of their dignity and not fall into the trap of believing we ‘hold the truth’ about their world. Holding another person as a ‘legitimate other’ provides a foundation for better and mutually beneficial relationship and also provides us with an opportunity to learn from others’ ways of being.