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.