"In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future."
Eric Hofer

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Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 560

Estimated reading time:  4:00 minutes



I had the great pleasure of being part of an impromptu conversation this week with theologian Richard Topping, (http://vst.edu/people/rev-dr-richard-topping ) on art and religion. In the midst of the conversation Richard referenced a Scientific American article that spoke of the relationship between Darwin’s ‘struggle for survival’ and what mathematician and evolutionary biologist Martin Nowack calls the “snuggle for survival.’”  


Dr. Nowack has presented a hypothesis, based on game theory that human evolution and development is as much due to cooperation and companionship as it is to competition.(https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-help/). I happen to know that similar hypotheses are being explored elsewhere; for example, Michael Tomasello’s 2009 book, Why we Cooperate, and Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer’s 2015 book, Friend and Foe. The conclusions of the research so far are intriguing; while competition is clearly evident, we are a social species for whom cooperation and companionship are vital. We need each other; there appears to be a biological  as well as social need for “snuggle.”


I believe that currently far too many of us believe in the ‘struggle’, and not the necessary snuggle. We laud and magnify the people who have ‘struggled’ and thrived (or who tell us that they have struggled and thrived). The messages of competition and zero sum; in sports, in reality TV, in politics, are consistent and clear; life is a struggle, there is a winner and there are losers. There is no other meaning, just winning or for most of us, losing. And sadly, it is often the losers themselves who get caught in this deadly thinking trap.


Quite frankly friends, this zero sum game we believe we are playing is very dangerous because it assumes that competition is the only important element in our lives. Income inequality, a lost middle class, a generation of well educated young people most of whom cannot find full and fulfilling employment, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism on the rise and the anxiety and fear driven by a real or imagined constant threat of terror are all signs of a very serious if not terminal illness. I submit that all of them are related to excessive competition, winners and losers.  We are instead to choose life. And that is the good news; that while competition can be important and healthy in many ways, cooperation and companionship is vital, it is the way of life.


Here are three ways to bring cooperation more fully into your life:


  1. Take time to reflect on all of the people who loved, supported, coached and challenged you in life, and give a prayer of thanksgiving for their contributions to your life.
  2. Be challenged by the call of wisdom a life of love and forgiveness, and that is not an easy life. To love and forgive is much more difficult than to compete and crush.
  3. Find ways of investing and participating in co-operative business models like credit unions and housing co-ops. They are amazing ways of bringing life and cooperation back into the economy. Check out Douglas Rushkoff’s 2016 book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus for more ideas.


May you find snuggling, co-operation and companionship in your work and life this week.