If you can’t beat ’em…

I was regaling the nephews one evening over dinner with stories about me (naturally) when during an anecdote about fighting at school I asked them about their experiences. At seven and nine I figured they were no strangers to bullying and just plain surviving the Canadian penal, I mean, education system.

“What do you mean,” says the nine year old, “like, people hit you?”

I was stunned. Do we really live in a world where a kid in grade four has never been beaten up at school? I had always thought that if I had kids, school was one of those things that I would protect them from, conjuring up elaborate home-school schemes that would have tested the finances of a Sultan. Never did I imagine that things would improve.

I remember getting picked on for things as stupid as out-of-season clothing. I remember being the bully now and then, particularly punishing towards little TB, the sweetest guy ever by the accounts of people who knew him later. I suppose his great crime was being… content. I couldn’t stand it.

In those days it wasn’t just kids who got physical. I remember trips to the barn, following the dangling belt. I don’t remember the strapping, but I remember the use of power, being forced to walk to your punishment of your own free will, a grown-up’s assertion of who is boss.

I remember kindergarten, a harrowing walk past rabid German Shepherds and a teacher who had to show that kid who’s boss. “No you can’t go to the washroom now, it’s time for story circle.” So I sat in the circle, crossed my arms and didn’t take my eyes off of her as a great pool of pee spread outwards and the other kids fled in horror. Then I went home instead of to the washroom. Why does everybody have to show a kid who’s boss? Was there some doubt in her mind as to whether she or I was in charge? Did I really have issues with authority all those years, or did the authorities have issues?

For twenty years Mike, aka the best, has been trying to get me to cooperate.
“Why can’t you fold the sheet yourself?” I ask, bewildered. “Because I want to fold it with you,” his equally befuddled reply. “It’s a good thing I didn’t know you when you were little”, I tell him, “cause I would have beaten you up for sure.”

At the latest Hub meeting, we apparently had a breakthrough while discussing Movie Nights. A number of us, sitting in a circle talking about our latest effort to engage our neighbours, and one after another, people chimed in as to how they could contribute to spreading the word about it. Like a hacky-sack the ideas bounced from one to the next until the movie night sub-committee was ready to run with it on their own.

David Derbyshire, our veteran Hub builder pointed out our successful use of collaboration and the asset-based method in forwarding the Movie Night planning and we all congratulated ourselves. And I wondered if a couple decades of reluctant cooperation has gotten me ready for collaboration, which seems to be a lot like cooperation, but with more people.

And nobody had to show any body who’s boss, and nobody had to pee on the floor to make a point.

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Can I play too?

The Centre for Social Innovation is a strange new beast in the corporate landscape. A shared work environment for mission-driven entrepreneurs and organizations, it is one part sanctuary, one part launching pad and two parts home.

As an invisible minority of the Viking-Canadian variety, a group characterized by an absence of the cooperation gene, I find the environment both thrilling and challenging. I had always imagined that the way to improve things, to save forests for instance, was to get rich, buy up acres of land and sit on them. It turns out this is the long way around. While I come up with one new business plan after another, groups like those at the CSI have saved vast tracts of the Canadian landscape through partnerships with government, industry and the private sector.

As I poke around and learn who’s who I see that these groups are made of individuals who are smart, nice and sincere and I begin to feel like I missed out on being part of it, like I’d been wanting to, but just didn’t see it going on all around me. I feel like all the forests are saved already (editors note: they aren’t) and as I wonder why I wasn’t invited to the party, I realize that the unifying characteristic of all these people is a decided tendency towards cooperation.

With six siblings, a family history that worships rugged individualism and a personal leadership strategy called ‘shut up and do it’ you may understand when I tell you that as soon as conversations turn toward the cooperative, my skin crawls and I want to pull my hair out. “Just stick a damn painting on the wall!” I want to scream as an impromptu hallway discussion moves into the realm of striking an art committee to form a collective to decide on a structure to resource the walls as a gallery to showcase the talent of the members. ‘And what about insurance?’ Arrrh!

People keep asking me why I am putting myself into situations where I am forced to cooperate if it makes me crazy and I wonder if other times in history favoured swift decision-making and bold action? I wonder if we are now heading into a time that favours long-term planning and equity? “They” have sometimes said that cooperation is the reason that humanity has survived the various disasters in our short history and may well be key to saving ourselves from ourselves. Survival? Self or genetic preservation? Could it be that simple?

I decided to throw my lot in with the winning team and get myself a Hot Desk at the Centre for Social Innovation. Cooperation here I come!