No Need for Fences

by Sidney S. Stark

“It’s interesting about creative projects – it’s easy to assume that creativity is something that comes from an individual, but often I can do something creative only because I know the right person with whom to collaborate.”*
*Gretchen Rubin: from The Happiness Project blog April 20, 2010.

The derivation of the word collaboration comes from the Latin collaborare: to labor together; so it suggests teamwork, the opposite of rivalry (contention) and yet competition originally meant to strive toward the same goal together. The collaborative endeavor suggests that the parties end up taking ownership of the whole instead of just their individual parts. Certainly the sense of sharing becomes a part of the endeavor.

The original meaning of competition from the Latin competere: to seek together, to come together, agree, be suitable, from ‘com + petere’ has been twisted like taffy until its modern meaning has come to be the only one we associate with it today. Now it’s attached to seeking a victory or prize against another as in a rivalry. Why did that happen?

The difference between the two was so subtle yet key to the development of an older society. It would suggest that people used to be able to simply pursue a goal together at the same time without disagreement or any sense of one individual besting another when they competed for something. If they collaborated they were planning to share the goal when they attained it and they were going to bring their separate individual talents to bear on the subject as opposed to just accompanying each other in its pursuit. How very interesting! So the real but subtle difference was in the sharing; either both shared the journey but not the goal or not the journey but eventually the goal. The two distinctions were very close.

Today we would suggest that the two characteristics could not be further apart. Or on second look, are they really? It takes a rare two individuals or team of people who can truly put aside the singular promotion of ‘self’. To collaborate fully with others and take full responsibility for and ownership of the whole progression instead of just their part requires something often missing today. That subtle competition seems to worm its way into the process before anyone realizes the collaboration has ended. It seems that some people just start out revering competition for its own sake and have no intention of cooperating with anyone for anything; but what is it that turns the others who thought they were team players into star seekers?

Ego probably plays the biggest part. The more self-aware and comfortable one is with oneself the more easily one can let go of the individual need for self-aggrandizement. Certainly the more inclusive and compassionate someone is by nature the better they are at collaborating. A big view of life tends to reduce the need for fencing. And in the end, isn’t it the pleasure human beings get from being part of a bigger whole that makes them happiest? The fight or flight reaction is a quick trip to a nervous breakdown if it’s elicited too often and protecting one’s back from enemies is a sure way to produce that outcome. Why do rivalries produce enemies? That lack of self-awareness and the belief that fences will come in handy for protecting your turf suggest antagonism, even if none’s intended. Fences limit the possibilities for collaboration on purpose.

It would all seem to boil down to whether or not you want to go it alone. If you prefer a partner to share in the burdens as well as the bravos; if you feel you can create better works using collective talents since you know you didn’t get every skill available to a human being; and if you’d prefer to look forward with others rather than having to watch your back all the time then collaboration is undoubtedly a happier way to live.

I have a feeling we’re all really made out of the same star dust anyway, so competing with others is rather like trying to beat yourself, isn’t it? Technology certainly makes the mechanics of collaboration easier yet people seem to be more reluctant to work with each other to get what they want. They prefer to do everything for themselves by themselves. And no my friend, the internet isn’t ‘another’. You have to be very comfortable in your own skin before you can step out of the protective cover of anonymity afforded by the digital medium and face a living breathing human being who can hold your hand and share your burdens face to face. Of course love is the bravest form of collaboration; and the most rewarding.

Question@You: What does competition mean to you? Please leave a comment.

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