What is a catalyst? + the importance of assurance

by | Nov 21, 2023 | Latest Post | 0 comments

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Today, visit to the optician in Radstock to test my eyes in their post cataract state. New glasses required and I have to do without my regular glasses for two weeks. Without the NHS, I would be functionally blind and walking with a stick. Cataracts are horrible things. People look like ghosts and everything is blurry.
My prescription involves more money, such is life.  I would have to be on supplementary benefits to be able to receive such a service without charge.

knitted street decoration near the opticians

I seem to get the day’s menu dictated to me. It comes out of the blue as most synchronistic things seem to do. My friend John, with whom I speak to regularly, has a great effect on me of being a catalyst, but is that the most apt description or is there another word to better describe the dynamic. What is it that makes a person’s presence or their input catalytic?

There are two basic ways in which the word catalyst is used. In chemistry, it is a substance that initiates or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected. I remember in my school days we talked about super-saturated copper sulfate. When a small quantity of another particle was dropped in, the whole liquid became crystalline in a moment. Contrast this with a human interaction when we do something that will cause a rapid change. That could be called a precipitous action. It’s not quite the same thing as a catalyst especially if you’re referring to the second most common meaning of ‘catalyst’ which is an event or a person causing a change.

A person who is a catalyst is not necessarily aware of it, especially with human interactions. for example ‘the way he asked her to do the washing up precipitated a blazing row about something else‘. This also happens in general ‘the invasion acted as a catalyst to unite the country’. ‘The cut in pay was the catalyst to cause the employee to leave’

You would not always be aware that you are a catalyst. Where your words seem to upset someone else, you are likely to say ‘ was it something I said?’. The likelihood is that it was not, that you triggered something in the other person that perhaps they had not faced for some time and thus produced a (to you) disproportionate reaction.

There is a difference between tipping the balance, the straw that broke the camel’s back as we say, and an advance in learning and understanding something which is an organic thing functioning at all levels.

However we have another word that we can introduce, and that word is ‘synergy’. It does not assume that in the case of two or more people, one is more capable of making an intrinsic input than others. In the case of the writing of a song, one person might write the lyrics and their partner composes the music. Each one is good on their own, but together they create a successful song. Synergy is working together to create something greater than either party could achieve working alone.

The word synergy comes from the Greek sun ‘together” and ergon “work”. It is also from the Greek synergos which means working together, same meaning. This is the same route that gives us ‘ergonomic’ and ‘energy’ when one factor enhances the effect of another.

Going all biblical for the moment as I am prone to do, there is a well-known to us being all members of one body

just as a body, has many parts, but all it’s many parts form one body, so it is with Christ…. We were all given the one spirit…. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say ‘because I’m not a hand, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason stop being part of the body…… If the whole body were an ear where would the sense of smell be?…. The eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you and the head cannot say to the feet, I don’t need you. On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable....

you can read the rest by looking at one Corinthians 12:12-27

There is a certain individualism particularly in the Western world which separates us from other people in a needlessly competitive stance. Basically we keep things to ourselves, possessions are ‘ours’, intellectual property belongs to us, finders keepers etc.

I suggest that if we gave away every last bit of knowledge we had, we would end up knowing more than when we started. It is because the brain, in order to produce what is required, is encouraged to make more neural pathways and thus will connect more dots. This is capable of infinite development.

It seems to me that selfishness is a mug’s game.

So the point of synergy,is that it is a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of the participants or elements such as resources or efforts.

You have probably heard the saying ‘ the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. The problem with synergy in business is that two different types of chemistry have to be mixed. As oil and water does not mix, so if there are two different political landscapes in companies that wish to join together, yet more politics will arise.

The word ‘cooperation’ is slightly less demanding. It’s about operating together. For example if I want to lift a heavy tree branch which is obstructing my path, I will ask someone to co-operate with me to move it. One aspect of the person, the physical side, is required on a temporary basis to achieve something of common benefit. It is unlikely that it would include the elements of synergy.

There is another word, ‘collaboration’, which is to work jointly with others especially in an intellectual endeavour. This is commonly used  in connection with a scientific or strategic project.  We can also ‘collaborate’ with the enemy.

We talk of going ‘in partnership’. This is more applicable to business situations but it can merge and meld with the individual side of the human being.

I suggest that synergy is the highest common factor of engagement where both parties are enhanced as indeed is their effective working and social environment

Comments invited

The inbuilt need for assurance

On a recent visit to Bath, when we were at the bus station waiting for the number 173 to Wells, a lady hesitated before getting on the bus. She seemed uncertain. She asked the driver, does this bus go to Wells? My initial  thinking process was rather uncharitable. ‘Wells’ was marked quite clearly on the destination panel of the bus so what was her problem?

What she said to the driver however helped me to understand the basis of this obvious question. It appears that her normal way of going to Wells was driving. She had never been on the bus before and this was a new experience for her. She needed this additional factor which we call ‘assurance’.

An assurance is a promise. ‘ they gave us the assurance that they would sign the contract immediately’. ‘ the management gave their assurance is that they would be no more job losses’ The word is also about how you speak. ‘He spoke with calm assurance’, ‘he spoke firmly and confidently’. The reason for this factor is to make up for lack of assurance which is not lack of confidence but related to it. They are cousins.

It is the same when someone goes along to an event that they haven’t been to before meeting a group of people they haven’t met before. Most people just take it in their stride but some need the magic assurance. For example if I was organising a meeting in someone’s home, I would ask the person there to be available on the phone for a couple of hours before the meeting to give assurances that the event was indeed going to take place. Most of us are walking wounded in one way or another and although people may wish to attend a meeting they may be put off, almost defeated you could say, by their own nerves.  This trait needs to be understood and respected.

There is nothing worse than venturing out on a dark evening, finding an address, wondering if it is the right one, whether the date is right, or whether the people will be there or whether you will be the only one or whether you will get on well with the other people or not, or whether you would have anything to contribute — the list goes on. There are many timid people amongst us and it is such a shame that their contribution to the community could be lost because of lack of such basic assurances.


Frightening abuses of Science – a conversation with Wesley J. Smith


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