Value of the week: Cooperation

β€œIn order to cooperate we have to be selfless.” – Radhanath Swami

Cooperation is defined as the action or process of working together for a common purpose.

About 20 years ago I was visiting northern India and was invited to talk at an open-air whole school assembly. I remember feeling a little overwhelmed, as I addressed hundreds of pupils who were standing in lines in their smart uniforms.

Neil talking at a SchoolAssembly in India

The theme of my talk was cooperation and I told them one of my favourite stories of the two donkeys and the two piles of hay. Two donkeys had been bought by a farmer, roped together and put them in a field that had two piles of hay. 

Each donkey wanted to eat from a different pile of hay but unfortunately the rope holding the two together was not long enough for them to reach their chosen pile. They pulled and pulled to try and reach the hay and got very cross with each other. Eventually they became exhausted and had to rest. Suddenly they wondered if they became friends they could cooperate and reach the hay. So they agreed to be friends and walk together to one pile of hay, eat their fill and then go to the other. They realised how happy they felt when they cooperated and remained friends for life.

Photo courtesy of Tapestry Cards

Self-interest or cooperating for the general good may fuel relationships at an individual, community and national level. Never, in my view, has there been a time in history when international cooperation is needed to solve the big issues of our time.  

I have been reading about the “imaginal cells” that create the process of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. After a period of ravenous consumption, the caterpillar forms a chrysalis from which it will dissolve into an organic stew, where dormant “imaginal cells” hold the vision of the new structure.

I think this is a wonderful metaphor for creating a sustainable future. Humanity has the opportunity to act like a caterpillar and transform existing ideas and structures, which are based on systems that are no longer fit for purpose. By cooperating with each other, society and the world order can be reimagined: one that is governed by mutual respect, based on courage, equity, consideration, caring and sharing. These values would provide a foundation from which cooperation as a process can be developed and the flourishing of humanity guaranteed.