bq: ontological parity

Some lead ins before reading.

  1. I like the general idea though I disagree with their summary statement of “What I know is no better than what you know, only different.” I think that ties closer to a Perry 3 multiplicity than anything else. All ideas are not equal.
  2. This ties in well extension of ego boundaries and what I was attempting to say yesterday about a universality of humankind.
  3. The terms rhetorical communication and existential communication are used. Existential communication is a special case of rhetorical communication. Rhetorical communication as a class is concerned with the process of persuasion. We assume a variety of roles as rhetorical methods of persuasion so as to get our needs met. The purpose of rhetorical communication is to persuade. Existential communication is the case where the need to be met is the self-actualizing need to fully and honestly express who we are to another person.

So without further ado, ontological parity…


Section on Ontological Parity from the chapter “Existential Concerns and Self Discovery” from the book A Rhetoric of Interpersonal Communication and Relationships by Marcus L. Ambreseter, Carolyn Gardner Buttram, Glynis Holm Strause, and Marcus L. Ambrester III

Human society presupposed hierarchy. As humans we build our cultures through symbolic titles which assign rank and power to individuals and separate the “Mr. and Ms. ‘Bigs'” from the “Mr. and Ms. ‘Littles’.” Ontological parity is a difficult sounding phrase which stands for a rather easily understood concept. This concept represents an attitude in which persons meet at the level of humanity without concern over status.

Ontological parity can be explained by first examining the meaning of the individual words. In Webster’s New World Dictionary (1978) “ontological” is defined as a branch of philosophy “…dealing with the nature of being, reality or ultimate substance.” This branch of philosophy is concerned with the nature of human beings and seeks to explore those aspects which make us human.

Parity refers to the state of being equal. Putting the words together with these definitions in mind, we can determine that ontological parity refers to the state of being equal as humans. You’ve probably heard the anti-prejudice phrase, “We are all alike under the skin.” This phrase represents part of the philosophy surrounding ontological parity. A paraphrase which accurately describes the spirit of the term is “What I know is no better than what you know, only different.” This implies that my knowledge, expertise, and status are only different from your, neither better nor worse. We are equal at the level of our life experiences, who I am is no better or worse than who you are.

The application of this concept to existential communication is apparent. For any relationship to operate at the existential level, that relationship must be as free as possible from the social trappings of a hierarchical perspective. If one person feels superior or one person feels inferior because of accumulated wealth, education, or social standing, parity cannot exist and communication is largely relegated to the rhetorical realm. For two persons to experience what it means and how it feels to be understood, they must begin to make efforts to achieve ontological parity. The attitude of “What I know is no better than what you know, only different,” helps erase many of the rhetorical strategies we employ to show either dominance in relationship or submissiveness as a means to control. Existential communication and ontological parity are almost synonymous, you cannot have one without the other.

Another application for the perspective of ontological parity deserves mention. Although we have pointed out repeatedly that existential communication is a rare form of communication, it is important to note that one can maintain a perspective of ontological parity regardless of whether the other person holds such a perspective. If individuals see themselves as equal with all those persons with whom they communicate daily, their sense of worth is heightened, they are less threatened by status, and their communication can approach the existential level more frequently. This “state of being” certainly occurs through years of of practice for the most part. Few of us can suddenly shift to such a perspective. Yet you may find that the struggle is worth the effort.

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