(Attempts at Enlightening Clarifications) 
By Ed Aurelio C. Reyes
President, SanibLakas ng TaongBayan Foundation
Full-time student and popularizer of Synergism Principle
November 6, 2000



Questions: What's with this "Sanib" word?  What does the Dictionary say?  What do other people say?  Isn't synergism a rare phenomenon?  Are  its effect real and measurable?  Whence comes this 'Magic'?  What about diversity? How is it related to Democracy?

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E ARE the SanibLakas Foundation in the Philippines.   And before anyone freaks out on our name, allow me to introduce it in the form of a dictionary definition. 


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saniblakas (sa'-nib-la-kas') n., SYNERGISM  (newly-coined Filipino compound word). vi., (prefix 'mag' + saniblakas),  TO SYNERGIZE, to help develop and enhance human  synergism  and people's collective self-empowerment (PSE).

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.          Sanib-lakas as a common noun or an intransitive verb stands both for synergy and for synergism, for promoting it, building it, working to get the full practical benefit from its very real but largely underutilized potentials. 
          I had earlier searched high and low for a Filipino word to capture this precise sense, and the closest I got was "bayanihan" which has, over the centuries, largely lost its sting and original meaning.  That's why I thought of coining "sanib-lakas," a new word altogether, the same thing I did in 1991 for "sense of history" by coining the word "kamalaysayan." And like in the case of that campaign for sense of history, I started an organization in 1996, which eventually became a foundation, and gave it the same coined-word name, this time in the form of a proper noun that has done away with the hyphen.

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          SanibLakas Foundation works in various ways to promote the conscious application of the principle of synergism, and help actually  build broad synergies that would help the people directly attain collective self-empowerment. The synergism-oriented people's self-empowerment (PSE) paradigm is a distinct approach to social change toward a humane and democratic order.  It seeks the direct empowerment of the people by their own efforts, as both the means and the actualization of their individual and collective upliftment.

          Consciousness in application means there would be enough clarity of understanding about the general and specific contents and nuances of this principle, as to be distinguished from a basic awareness that "in union there is strength."  Conscious  application is the actual building of synergies all around, within and among families, neighborhoods, teams, clubs, organizations, cooperatives, occupational sectors, and in the quest for nation-building, for international human harmony, for planethood. Even beyond all that.
          We've been impatiently asked by some people, "What is there to clarify about  synergism? Everybody already knows that 'in union there is strength'! You're not saying anything new!"  To those who ask we try to explain that knowing about strength in numbers is only the beginning of knowing about the synergism principle. There is much else to synergism that one has to grasp or at least be open to in order to derive more value from this highly potent principle.

Dictionary Definitions

.My Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition (1991), gives this definition for the prefix syn-


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Syn- (sin) Gr. <syn, with; earlier xyn] prefix with, together, at the same time [synesthesia, syncarpous].  It becomes, by assimilation, syl- before l; sym- before b, m or p; and sys- before or in words where it reflects original combining with a word containing an initial aspirate, or (h) sound.

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          This togetherness is reflected in the definitions of many words that start with this prefix: synthesis, symmetry, symbiosis, syncretism, symphony, sympathy, and so on.  And, of course, this togetherness is reflected in the definition given by the same dictionary for the words synergy and synergism.

synergy, n: combined in  cooperative or complementary action or force.
.synergism, n.: 1. The simultaneous action of separate agencies which, together, have greater total effect than the sum of the individual parts taken separately: said esp. of drugs. 
2. The combined or correlated action of different organs or parts of the body, as of muscles working together.






       The Merriam-Webster Dictionary would add as another meaning "the doctrine that in regeneration there is a cooperation of divine grace and human activity." 
         As I understand it, synergy refers to the coming together at a certain high level of quality, and synergism is the principle that explains what comes from this high-quality coming together. The principle reveals and explains a "value-added" to synergy, a perceptible increase in magnitude of the total effect the same elements had when acting separately. 

Quotes from others
          Before I go any further on this stream, allow me first to quote other people on this subject:
          Stephen R. Covey wrote in his The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon and Schuster, NY): "What is synergy? Simply defined it means that the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part."
          Buckminster Fuller (in Critical Path, St. Martin's Press, NY) describes synergism as "the behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts."
          According to Charles Hampden-Turner (Maps of the Mind, Collier Books, NY): Synergy comes from the Greek synergia, `a working with', and describes the capacity of two forces, persons, or structures of information to optimize one another and achieve mutual enhancement. 
          In the same book, Ruth Benedict, the anthropologist and poet, is credited with introducing the idea of synergy into social science, wrote: "From all comparative material the conclusion emerges that societies where not aggression is conspicuous have social orders in which the individual by the same act and at the same time serves his own advantage and that of the group."  (Maps of the Mind, Charles Hampden-Turner, Collier Books, NY, page 148.)

          And we the simplest statement from Abraham Maslow, quoted in still the same book: "Synergy is indivisible."
          Here are quotes from Filipinos:
          Vic Fila, a visitor to this website who expressed interest in joining the Filipinos for Life worldwide network, described synergy as the action of two or more substances, organs or organisms to achieve an effect neither one of them is individually capable.
          And in his foreword to the SanibLakas Foundation pamphlet on cooperative education on synergism, former Bulacan Gov. Roberto Pagdanganan described synergy as "a fusion to create a newer dimension broader that the totality of the parts."

.Smiling poem 'lists' applications
          In May-June 1999, I had the inspiration to write a poem enumerating various applications of the principle of synergism, and have since offered it up as a smiling poem for contemplation and discussion. This is the poem, Smile for Synergy, which is part of the SanibLakas-authored "Seven Flames for Holistic Synergies," and enumerates the following as synergies deserving of our smiling appreciation, even awe -- (1) health, (2) symbiosis, (3) integrity, (4) friendship, (5) marriage, (6) siblinghood, (7) family, (8) teamwork and healthy organizations, (9) earnest conversations, (10) "bayanihan" and the cooperatives, (11) nationhood, (12) planethood, (13) collective wisdom, (14) the universe, (15) Cosmic Consciousness, and the Creator, the "Synergy of All Synergies."
          The poem seeks to show, in a smiling positive way, how synergism is very much alive all around us, among us, and within us. It ends by adding: "Smile for the synergy of all our smiles, happy and proud to be part of it all," the last phrase carrying a double meaning.

Measurable Magnification
          The synergism principle pertains to a "value-added" to synergy, a perceptible increase in magnitude of the total effect the same elements would have if each were to be acting separately. 
          The perceptible increase in magnitude is even physically measurable.  In his article "Synergism and the Holy Spirit," Rev. Roy Shepherd shares with us how a police unit conducted a physics experiment after losing their championship in the police games. Using a special “pull meter”; they measured the maximum force exerted by each member of their team. Then they measured the force exerted by the whole team; the team result was 1˝ times more than the sum of the individual team members. 
          Some other words are akin in meaning to synergy: teamwork, harmony, complementation, but the only principle I know of that explains the magnification or "value-added" resulting from the attainment of synergy, of harmony, of teamwork, of complementation, is synergism.  And the principle has much more to it than simply knowing that "in union there is strength"; in fact the principle of synergism would qualify our notion of "strength in numbers" to be conditional and would offer workable ways to raise the quality of unity and  consequently attain much more "value-added," much more magnification of capability or effect.
          A certain Dan Zedra was quoted (in an attractive poster showing wild geese in formation flying), saying: "Instinctively, the Great Northern Geese travel thousands of miles in perfect formation -- and therein lies the secret. Formation flying is 70 percent more efficient than flying alone." 
          Sean Covey (Stephen's son), in his own book The Seven Habits of Highly-Successful Teenagers, gives a slightly higher figure for the aerodynamic efficiency of formation flying -- 71 percent, explaining that when a goose flaps its wings, it creates an updrift for the goose that follows. "Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it immediately feels the resistance of trying to fly alone and quickly gets back into formation. As the lead goose gets tired he will rotate to the back of the  'V'  (formation) and allows another goose to take the lead position." 
          (He adds something else that goes beyond aerodynamics: "The geese in the back honk to encourage those in front."  And this: "Finally, when one of the geese gets sick or is wounded and falls out of formation, two geese will follow it down to help and protect it. They will stay with the injured goose until it is better or dies, and they will join a new formation or create their own to catch up with the group."

Clue to the Source of 'Magic'
         It has been proven both in measurable and immeasurable terms that operation of the synergism principle results in value-added, in some sort of magnification of total value.  The eyebrow-raising arithmetical formula usually used to describe the operation of synergism is "one plus one equals three."  And the question that may follow is about the source of this "magic," where does this come from?  It took some years of hunting before I could arrive at an answer that would do fine for me.  At least for the time being.
          Not all combinations of individual elements make up a synergy, because the precise design or arrangement of the combination may not optimize the performance of these individual elements.  We can see this in frequent manifestations of "bad teamwork" (actually a lack of teamwork) or bad management.  In worst-case examples, the resulting equation is "one plus one equals zero" because the capabilities or the actions of the elements actually cancel out one another.
          It is not necessarily true that "in union there is strength," because synergy cannot easily be attained and sustained accidentally. Ask the good sports team coaches and the good managers. And they will agree that it does entail a lot of study, experimentation, evaluation and painstaking improvement to build the right "chemistry," the great winning teamplay. 
          The idea that organizations automatically generate strength and empower their members is based on the illusion that "all sorts of combinations are synergies."  Wrong!  In fact, the behavior or non-behavior of many organizations all around us has been giving the value of organizations a bad name. For this reason, there are many people who have come to stay away from organizations altogether.
          I chanced upon my tentative answer to the question where does the value-added come from when I listened to the valedictory speech delivered by the outgoing president of a local business club. She said the outgoing officers were proud to report having fulfilled their induction-day promise to be a "TEAM."  She said that for them, "TEAM" as an acronym has always stood for "Together, Each Achieves More." 
          Never mind the little syntax awkwardness here. The meaning is unmistakably clear, anyway.  The statement really flashed inside my mind that here was the answer I had been looking for --  Really close togetherness can actually increase the magnitude of capability or actual action of each individual element.  If teamwork or harmony, in short attainment of synergy, can increase the capacity or output of each element, why would anybody be surprised at all that the total would be bigger or even much bigger?

.          Take a look at the simple equation below. If you point the cursor at this formula, the common plus sign is replaced with another sign, a "weird-looking" one, to symbolize a combination in synergy and not a mere addition. See what else happens:.


          It is not as if the members just put in their best together and then "a magical power from above" ("deus ex machina") suddenly grants a "counterpart fund" to add to their total.  Instead, this "magical power" apparently works, through synergism, through complementation or mutual encouragement or both, to increase the output of each one in the synergy  thereby automatically increasing the total. And this total belongs to the entity collective really distinct from any which individual member and distinct from all of them taken separately.  This is the distinct reality of their harmonious collectivity, of their synergy. And as Abraham Maslow wrote and was cited above, "synergy is indivisible."

Dynamism from Diversity
          Diversity is not something to be tolerated or "solved" in the context of synergy-building. While commonalities among the elements provide the bonding element, the glue or the magnetic waves among them, diversity is the enriching, catalyzing factor that gives the collectivity its dynamism
          In chemistry, you cannot expect any chemical reaction to occur when mixing together quantities of identical substances. In an orchestra, the richness of the musical sound produced comes from the wide variety of instruments played  a single sequence of notes in the  arrangement.  In choral group singing, the blending of voices cannot occur and be enjoyed if all sing only the melody, the "first voice."
          Despite the diversities there is need for some commonality over certain ground rules. Despite the divergences, and especially because they exist, diverse people or groups coming together into the process of building partnerships and sustainable unities must have at least a modicum of agreement that  

        (1) such diversity is richness and not necessarily a conflict; 

        (2)  diverse groups actually have essential commonalities; and

        (3) these diverse groups make up a great whole. 

Synergism and Democracy
          There has been built and maintained a millennia-old pattern where a powerful minority extravagantly live off the toiling backs of the majority, and the latter has been powerlessness to rectify this "great wrong" in human social arrangements that have spanned the world and its history.  Even with the development of democracy as an ideal, as an ideology and as a formal reality in many countries, the majorities in all these countries have remained weak and effectively controlled to serve only the interests of the view.  

          The concept of "strength in numbers" has been seriously challenged, nay debunked  in this context.  How come this has happened and continues happening?  Because the "strength in numbers" materializes only if the "numbers," that is, the majority of the people have enough strength to contribute and they do actually contribute it to a synergy.  Otherwise, they remain only a mass of slaves, a mass of slavish workers, a mass of stampeding consumers, a mass of voters, all serving the very powerful few.

.          It is the people's synergy that can create and consolidate their collective empowerment, both as a process and as a developing result. Direct and collective self-empowerment of the people is both a process a victory to be won every step of the way. It is that part of human development when the people grasp firmly how important human harmony is to that development, and how a higher level of human development can only  proceed from a higher level of harmony all around -- harmony within individual humans, harmony among people, and harmony between the human race and the living planet and the cosmos. For this reason, synergism is very much spiritual more than just material, embracive and not exclusionary, and unifying instead of being separative and defeatist.   

.          Opportunities for the collective assertion of the popular will, as in the mere holding of periodic elections, is hollow unless the citizenry is in the position to exercise informed choices and to build and consolidate the consensus, the collective will.   Such will would cover the people's own views as to which social agenda deserve to be given priority and which political parties and candidates would likely be faithful to the people's real interests if installed in power.

.          Only in actual people's synergy and empowerment can democracy thrive beyond self-defeating illusions.  Only in real democracy can the people command the allegiance of government officials, to make the latter their servant leaders and not their rulers. Only in real democracy can we validate such phrases as "sovereign body politic. Only in such a condition can the will of the people, no longer a "silent majority," be expressed by the people themselves, and not by contradictory claims of self-righteous, self-serving and self-appointed spokespersons.

.          The continued  development in actual application of the synergism principle  leads humankind ever forward in the path of total human development and harmony

.          Contrary to the illusions on the part of those who belittle the principle of synergism, the principle is not that simple. They belittle it because they have failed to really grasp its nuances and power. But throughout the world, people are shifting to a new paradigm emphasizing the holistic view, acknowledging interconnectedness, pursuing "win-win" resolutions, and promoting genuine concern for the benefit of the whole. 
          With the promotion of wider awareness of synergism and efforts to build actual synergies, it can be declared with full conviction that conscious application of the principle of synergism will be a major part of the blessings and embracive trends of the New Millennium, defining a very significant chapter in the long history of development of Humankind.

For a firmer grasp of the principle of synergism, we invite you to join us in developing the comparative study of metaphors that can be useful in illustrating the principle or any of its aspects or nuances. Please send us your own metaphors, with explanations.

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