by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
When is cooperation compromise?
As I work on our small garden, I’m noticing something about myself I don’t particularly like. “Pig-headed”, is what my mother would say. A dogged adherence to how I think something should be done – such as how a space should be filled. I don’t easily give up to another’s suggestion. Once I arrive at the perceived “rightness” of a particular shape or form, it’s stuck there and I’m very ungenerous about changing it.
I’ve noticed the same thing about trying to work with my former neighbours (excellent people all) about the evening Concert preparations this 30th anniversary year of Olive Avenue’s block party. I still feel attached to our Toronto street, and because of having ‘produced’ about 20 of the previous evening Concerts wanted to contribute. That in itself, I hasten to say, doesn’t give me to any bigger say than anyone else, and – being an Away person – I’m lucky to have any say at all. The theme the Historical Content Committee decided upon is “Remember When: Hits from Previous Concerts”. Trouble is, I have a different perspective from theirs. And here’s where the petty and the ego kick in. Many of those ‘hits’ I was responsible for. I also believe myself to have learned about what works and what doesn’t. As the ideas took shape during a meeting, I could see the group falling into pitfalls I’d learned from: to do with what doesn’t work. BUT. How do I know for sure?
Initially I couldn’t dismiss my misgivings. As I saw my sense of ‘rightness’ holding no sway, and imagined the future discomfort of a captive audience, a little inner cringing and rising of blood pressure were stronger than common sense. Then a few signals told me I was being a pain in the neck.
I retreated to home. A few days later, I could see that long-time friendships are worth more than struggling over this particular (unwinnable) battle. Step back, let go, help around the edges but keep out of the creative fire. And recognize that I’m still a petty creature sometimes.
Where Boots Hit the Pavement
Now all my Buddhist and Taoist inclinations support letting go. Ego is getting in the way. Therapeutic history reminds me to check out what the feelings are and to recognize where they’re coming from. Christian foundations say ‘remember, it is so much more true to love than compete.
Times When Taking a Stand Matters
The person responsible, in any serious creative endeavor, has to go with his/her own sense of what works. Or else the process and product is hindered by the irritant of what feels off-centre, unbalanced, crooked. And in the working world, where many actions have big consequences, there can be an infinite number of times when the direction being taken by a higher authority in the organization, or your own working team, seems just wrong. You’ve made your argument and no one really heard it and the wrong direction is being taken. If the difference with the Boss or the working group is a serious moral one, there goes one’s commitment to sticking with that job. And people may get hurt.
A Tidy Summary
Important to know when to pick your fights and dig your heels in.
The familiar conundrum emerges, for the person with a healthy ego and strong convictions who wish to remain cooperative. (About the former, I love Tina Fey’s book , “Bossypants” from which, of course, I borrowed the title for this piece). Working cooperatively requires one to grow up, take your lumps, realize you may be wrong, and give other people a chance to try out their own sense of shape and form and balance. At the same time, every group requires one or more persons of unshakeable conviction about what the point of the work is.
The aloneness of retirement is a chance to indulge oneself in the garden. But having to grow up and stretch and share never really gets easier as long as you want to remain among the human race. I intend to get better at recognizing where to stick to my guns (plunk the boot down firmly) and when to slip on the stretchy sandal.