Collaboration, like empathy, is something we hear about more and more as a general abstract good, and yet are given so little by way of the how. What happens as a result is that we try to collaborate without knowing how, or we don’t even try because we are too consumed with fear, overwhelm, or outright judgment.
Collaboration is the purest antidote to either/or thinking because it rests on the faith that, in addition to a solution that works for all involved being possible, it is also potentially better. The biggest obstacle to collaboration is whatever commitment we continue to maintain to seeing our own needs as separate or even opposed to what someone else wants, even if we philosophically believe in collaboration. This is part of why I am so often suspicious when parents talk about “cooperation” as a need – it’s too easy for that to mean “getting my child to do what I want.”
When collaboration is challenging, often enough the form that this residual commitment takes shows up as speaking in the name of fairness. Two stories will hopefully illustrate this profound challenge.
The Supplier who Didn’t Provide
In our habitual ways of thinking, this supplier is at fault, and the “fair” solution is to coerce him, one way or another, to provide the necessary information. Before talking with me, Agnes had tried this path. Her emails to the provider remained unanswered. What could she do instead, she wondered?
Collaboration is not a moral imperative; it’s a practical reality, and often enough it’s the moral corner we paint ourselves into that interferes. In this case, Agnes harbored a host of judgments of the supplier, all of which buttressed her opinion that it was only fair that he should correct the error immediately. As tempting as such notions are, as common and overpowering, they only point to coercion as a solution. If we have the power, we then impose the results we want, almost invariably at cost to the other person. If we don’t, we feel helpless and resentful. This rarely attends to the issues at hand in a truly satisfying way. Agnes saw that, and committed to doing the inner work necessary to transform her judgments into deep self-connection based on understanding and embracing her own needs. Initially, her primary needs in her relationship with this supplier that came to her mind were those for support, reliable flow, and clarity, though she knew there was more to it, and that she would need to take some time and care to make full contact with those needs, not only name them. Moreover, full self-connection would also require her to open her heart to what might be the needs of the supplier that might have led him to provide such a different proposal from what she had expected: perhaps his needs might have been for ease, for receiving clearer instructions, for respect of his expertise, or for something quite different.
The Ex-Husband who Didn’t Pay Child Support
I confess to having some delight in choosing two stories where I can pretty much count on those reading this blog immediately taking the side of the person I spoke with. Who would not be automatically outraged at the ex-husband? Who would manage to fully release any belief that it is simply the only viable, fair, solution for him to just pay? Who would not understand Peter’s anguish? The delight is because such an intense identification provides a great opportunity to see the depth of our ways of thinking, and to move towards more freedom and more love.
For myself, I might not choose to be friends with the man who is not paying child support in this case, and it might be challenging for me if he were in my life because of the entanglement I would have with him. Nonetheless, in actual meetings with people, in mediations and when I facilitate groups and watch very challenging behaviors, I have no difficulty finding compassion for and interest in the well being of all who are there. This ex-husband is no exception.
The invitation to dialogue could start with Peter acknowledging to the ex-husband that he has been harboring some judgment and keeping distance, and that he is now believing himself to be ready to be in true conversation to see what is a way to make things work for all of them and the children. Of course this can only happen after Peter has done the work of letting go of the attachment to outcome, so that he can make himself open to being affected by the dialogue, so that he can come to the conversation in willingness to embrace the true unknown, remaining open to the possibility that he would willingly accept a different outcome from any that he can now see based on connecting with everyone’s needs.
And why would the ex-husband want to join the dialogue, was Peter’s last obstacle. He still believed that somehow the situation was working for the ex-husband, and that he would therefore lack motivation for participation. This is often the case when someone has certain powers in relation to us: we cannot force them to the table. In certain circumstances, we can find others to be in community and action with, and engage in nonviolent resistance. Along with many other things that nonviolent resistance aims at accomplishing, such as changing laws or expelling a foreign occupier, it is, in part a complement to dialogue, a way to create the conditions that would make dialogue more appealing, rather than being divorced from dialogue.
Often enough, we cannot generate sufficient resources to engage in nonviolent resistance, and then we can either let go of creating change, so we can genuinely accept the reality we don’t like, or we can invite the other person to dialogue, knowing full well that they may refuse. In doing so, Peter can remember that there is at least one powerful motivator for the ex-husband to choose dialogue: it’s, perhaps, his only way to find respite from the pervasive and uncomfortable energy of disapproval and hatred that he no doubt has been receiving from Peter for some time. My faith, one of the reasons I am often called naïve, is that it’s quite rare for a situation to truly work for someone when it’s at the expense of others, because the cost to the others becomes a cost to the person who appears to benefit, even if the dots are not fully connected.
Click here to read the Questions about this post, and to join us to discuss them on a conference call: Tuesday March 12, 5:30-7 pm Pacific time. This is a new way that you can connect with me and others who read this blog. We are asking for $30 to join the call, on a gift economy basis: so pay more or less (or nothing) as you are able and willing. This week, as Miki is doing workshops in Europe, Newt Bailey (of BayNVC and the Communication Dojo) will be taking her place.