Cooperation: How?

People who want to control us say,
“All I want is for you to cooperate.”
What they really mean is,
“Go along with me or I’ll accuse you of not being cooperative.”

Cooperation isn’t about giving up what you want.
It isn’t about making the other person give up what they want.
Cooperation is about caring about what the other person wants
almost as much as you care what you want.
And it requires that you be willing to have
a rather complex conversation with them.

This topic is about why we cooperate
and whether to cooperate or to compete.
“Cooperation: How?,” the second topic in this series,
will be about the complex conversation.


Competition is the opposite of cooperation
and our culture glorifies competition.
We are trained to win,
to avoid losing,
and even to gloat about our “victory” over “the loser.”
We are even trained to feel shame when we lose.

That’s a whole lot of bias,
built in by our culture,
for us to overcome
if we are going to learn to cooperate.


Forget about athletics and table games and electronic games and all such things.
Competing in these structured ways
– with defined rules and boundaries that everyone must follow –
is fun and healthy and good for us.

Think instead about your relationships,
especially about those that didn’t go well or that ended suddenly.
Think about one at work and one at home as you read on.

Remember the precise day things went wrong.
What were both of you competing for that day?
Does it still seem that important to you?
Did one or both of you want too much to win or to avoid losing?

If the other person refused to cooperate
and if your safety or your sense of yourself as an independent person was threatened,
then the battle was probably necessary.
If it was about anything else it may not have been.


Cooperate when you can.
Compete when you must.
And if you must compete, compete to win.

You must compete whenever there isn’t enough
of something that you need to survive.
Both parties should value their own lives,
and the lives of those they protect,
above all else.

You also need to compete whenever the issue matters to you
and other person refuses to cooperate.
You might have to inform them you are willing to cooperate.
You might even need to show them your ideas about how to go about it.
But if they refuse to cooperate
you owe it to yourself
to compete and to win if you can.
Anything less would be agreeing with them that they count more than you.


The Situation: There is a highway accident and for a moment it’s not clear who was at fault:

1) The other person says, “I don’t know what to do. I’ve never been in this situation.”

Solution: You ask if anyone is injured and, if not, you explain about exchanging insurance info.

Principle: They indicate a willingness to cooperate, so you do.

2) The other party says, “You are going to have to pay for this.”

Solution: You say, “I don’t know. Let’s exchange insurance information.”

Principle: They expect to compete. You teach cooperation and initiate it.

3) A huge man swinging a chain jumps out of his car and walks menacingly toward you.

Solution: If your car runs, move! If not, I hope you have a cell phone to call ‘911.’

Principle: Something you need to survive is at stake. (Your life!) You compete to win.


The Situation: You ask the boss if you can leave early to get to the bank and avoid a penalty on your mortgage:

1) The boss says: “I don’t know the policy but it’s O.K. this time.” (She’s new.)

Solution: You say, “I’ll stay late tomorrow then.”

Principle: Boss indicates a willingness to cooperate, so you do.

2) The boss says: “Then you will owe a half hour.”

Solution: You agree, and say, “I didn’t know we kept such close track. I’ll let you know when I work over or under from now on then, OK?” And you do.

Principle: Boss expects to compete. You teach cooperation.

3) Boss says: “You’ll be fired if you do.”

Solution: You pay the penalty on your mortgage and find another job.

Principle: Something you need to survive is at stake. You compete to win.

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