Cooperation: Vignette 1


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In my last blog, sort of a manifesto about why I blog, I laid out my major claim:

We don’t really get that we have a big problem with cooperation. We don’t see how the ways we do things from relating to raising a family to working, etc. could be really different. We don’t because we don’t see the yawning gap between our enormous potential for cooperation and our actual performance.

It’s hard to make sense of what I am saying about the “yawning gap” without real life pictures. So I will be giving such pictures from my own life as I go along. This vignette is the first.

I live in an intentional community: 75 people living and working together in 8 houses and three retail stores. Breakfast is on your own for many of us. A number of those, 6 to 8 ranging from 7 to 70, tend to gather in one kitchen between 6.30 and 8.00 am most mornings. Nothing formal. We come in and do our thing for our breakfast, schmooze, and go off to our respective days. There is a lot of spontaneity as to what might happen, or not, in this fairly ritualistic framework.

One morning, recently, I asked what I thought was a rather matter of fact of question of another regular at these early gatherings. He was kind of mystified by my question, and his response--“So!”--left me a bit bewildered. His wife intervened in an attempt to bridge the gap with an explanation of what my question meant.  One thing led to another as a seemingly simple interaction become unexpectedly complicated.

This time it led to a lot of humorous exchanges about what had gone down. I got lost in the interaction. In fact, I triggered some very deep stuff, stuff that may be the most painful stuff I had to struggle with as a little boy trying to hold his own with two brothers three and four years older than himself. All of this went down within 4 or 5 minutes. This triggering caught me really off-guard.

So at this point we have like four grown-ups in a humorous banter, one, my partner, who is sensing I am not doing well at all, a 7-yerar old whom I’m not sure how he's doing, and me reacting out of one of the most traumatic patterns of my early childhood life from some 65-60 years ago. Then I go for it. I interrupt all that is going down to say, “Hey, guys! You need  to know that I’m really triggered here. I don't know if you are laughing at me, but I’m back into being laughed at by my big brothers and it really feels shitty. Really, really shitty.”

Instantly--and I mean ‘instantly…’no exaggerations here…instantly--all the energy in the room shifts. Everyone is connected to my pain. And nothing else needed to happen. The amazing power of that instant shift of emotional energy healed everything in that moment. One person came forward to say that “You know I’ve been thinking recently that all of us have our personal Asperger’s Syndrome. And it is so easy for cross each other's at the sae time. And that can bring up so much stuff.  This seems like one of those moments.” And that is where the discussion went.

I was leaving that morning to drive up to Massachusetts to work on a joint project. All the way up it seemed that energy was buzzing in my car. I kind of floated all the way there.

All the adults there have had years of training and experience in this kind of sensitivity and understanding. What a differnece that made in that moment.

How often does this kind of shift happen in an activist life? How often would it be great if it did happen? What would it mean to the solidarity between you and your people, if it were a regular thing?

That’s what I mean by the “yawning gap.”

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