So much of our mental model about what works in our world, is built around the notion of personal achievement. We celebrate the individual by giving them money, recognition, profile or position. This is not a bad thing in and of itself. It’s just not enough, and at some level, we know that, despite its worth, the individual’s achievement is so often at the expense of community.
I was talking to a group recently about being part of the ‘river of human effort’, about helping the flow but fundamentally being a tiny part of an immense effort.
I thought about this image for a long time after the session, and realised the incredible paradox in the metaphor. On the one hand, no part of a river is truthfully memorable or separate from the whole – water, fish, moving pieces, the bank, the dappled sunlight, the changing surface, the washout from a storm. At any one moment, our eye might catch a particular image, a flash that catches us out. We look, we marvel, we think, and then the river moves on, everything contained within it, framed by it, changes.
Yet in our modern world, we are obsessed by individual achievement outside any greater frame (often) and so the buzz, the reward, the anxiety, the competition, the need to be seen drives us away from the flow and into a place of fragile isolation.
We stop being part of the river.
So, as I thought about this, and I guess reflected on how much effort I put into my life, to bringing to the light of day ideas I think have value, I realised that real collaboration is not so much about what I achieve in isolation, but how brave I am to try and make real, things that I believe matter, that make a difference to the river of life. Sometimes those things are a meal, that bring my family together for a loving moment in time where they are happy in their belonging. Sometimes those things are about building collaboration for a community idea that will, for a moment, be like a sparkling play of light on the river.
Both matter immensely, and both pass quickly.
But if I do this, and I am not defended, if I include others who see merit in what I do, if they come to an idea and not to me, and the idea becomes theirs, then ‘I’ isn’t fragile any more. It becomes part of ‘we’ and is shored up. The meal flows into my family, the idea into community.
We can never know where these things end up, just that they played their part. Good intent, care for the value of what we do is the best guarantee we have that it will be ok.
Written by Fabian Dattner