“I love to hear a choir…. I like the teamwork. It makes me feel optimistic about the human race when I see them cooperating like that.”
— Sir Paul McCartney
In a choir all the participants sing in unison. When the conductor indicates that they should sing softly, they all do so. No bright spark tries to stand out by singing at the top of his voice. During the Republic Day Parade, our armed forces march together in a disciplined fashion.
Competition is a necessary tool for our very survival for it spurs us to greater heights. Without competition all aspects of society would stagnate and life would be dull. Too much competition, however, results in no time for us to be calm, for relationships, for enjoying ourselves, for our spiritual and physical well-being. We have made winning the be-all and end-all of life, aggressively grabbing much more than our needs, jettisoning our values. All we get is a vicious cycle of stress, distress, unhappiness.
How calmly and gracefully seagulls swoop down and pick up fish from the sea! They take only as much as they need for their sustenance. They instinctively know that there is no need to jostle as there is enough fish to feed them all. This is cooperation in action. Contrast their actions with that of creatures much higher on the evolutionary ladder, with their highly-developed brains which they often misuse for scheming.
Newspapers, magazines, TV, social media, all combine to bombard us with the western values of individualism and competition where only I, Me, Myself matter. Our entire value system emphasizing familial ties and co-operation is being shaken to its foundations. Elderly, infirm parents just about cope on their own when their children leave them to pursue their ambitions in another country. Responsibilities and duties are forsaken.
Contrast competitive behaviour to those of twelve-year-old twins, Sunil and Anil, whose single mother supports them by cleaning apartments. Sunil is a precocious boy, excelling in sports and studies. On the other hand, his twin brother Anil has a learning disability and suffers from fits. Every evening, without fail, Sunil patiently teaches his sibling.
The young mentally-challenged students of Atmavishwas, Goa, were to sing at a concert when one of the participants, Deanne, backed out. Her classmates stoutly declared that they would not go on stage until she came. Some last minute telephone calls had to be made by their teachers to convince Deanne to come. Deanne did turn up and the entire group went happily on stage.
Great leaders have shown how cooperation can be used to achieve goals. Gandhiji galvanised an entire nation to join his non-violent movement for independence from British rule. On 4 June 1940, Sir Winston Churchill, the war-time Prime Minister of Britain, gave a stirring speech to his demoralised armed forces. He galvanised them to fight the Nazis, telling them, “We shall go on to the end… We shall fight on the beaches… We shall never surrender.” Jack Welch, the famous CEO of General Electric, USA, involved everyone in producing innovative ideas for running the company and made the workplace informal.
The best place to practise cooperation is at home. When the entire family shoulders some responsibility, the family remains united and happy.
Mother Teresa once said, “None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.”