(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
I presented the two videos we just watched as our Moment for All Ages because I wanted them to be a funny and endearing moment of reflection for kids and adults alike. I’ve asked that the children’s RE teachers briefly discuss the videos with the kids.
For all of you, please just shout out – so I can hear – a one or two word idea you got from the first video we watched – the one with the birds.
Now, please shout out a one or two word idea you got from the second video – the one with the polar bears.
I chose these videos to watch because I believe they capture the essence of what it means to collaborate. And that topic of collaboration, as you know from the title of my message, is one many people, including many experts, believe is a value expressed by a lot of women. In the Harvard Business Review poll I’ve cited the last two weeks about values people all over the world want in their leaders – and whether or not the value is mostly feminine or masculine – collaboration was judged mostly feminine and it was ranked number four, out of ten, of most desired leadership qualities.
A majority of the world’s people not only seek leaders who act in mostly feminine ways – with emotional intelligence, progressive thinking, empathy and collaboration – they are also implicitly rejecting traditional patriarchy. In a book entitled The Athena Doctrine, How Women (and Men Who Think Life Them) Will Rule the Future by John Gerzema, people all over the world are frustrated by leaders who who behave in typically male ways, with control, aggression and black and white thinking. Most people believe these mostly male behaviors are responsible for wars, income inequality, racism, scandal and reckless risk taking.
Evidence based research supports that belief. Most women, experts have found, think less of themselves when compared with their peers. Many men, on the other hand, overestimate their abilities compared with their peers. In short, studies show that men tend to have inflated egos and a greater sense of self-worth. Women, on the other hand, tend to shortchange their skills. That key attribute, to think less of oneself, is what ironically leads people to be more collaborative.
An analysis of voting patterns by US Senators shows this collaboration gender difference. In the last seven years, female Senators have co-sponsored an average of 171 bills with members of the opposite party. Male Senators have co-sponsored bills across party lines an average of only 129 times.
Another recent study by two college professors took 500 male students and 500 female students and divided them into same gender pairs. They were then asked to select, as a pair, 100 shares of any stock that the pair believed showed the most profit potential. The female student pairs were far more likely to compromise on their stock choice. For the male pairs, it was usually an all or nothing proposition. Either the two men agreed on a stock, or else no selection at all was made. For them, it was a my way or the highway approach.
The study showed, one of the professors said, that men tend to believe they have something to prove to another man. They often refuse to back down from a position in order to show they are strong. Women, this professor said, have no inner need to prove anything with other women. Their sense of self is not as precarious as that of men. Indeed, this professor remarked that many men will go out of their way not to compromise with another man – for fear that to do so is emasculating.
Regarding the two videos we watched, the predominant message I got from the one with the birds is patriarchy. Only those birds who appear the same are welcome in the flock. The one who is different was not only unwelcome, but was mocked. Even within the flock of similar feathered birds, there is tension, competition, and conflict. Each bird jostles to be the lead bird, the one at the center. Ego and selfishness describe the flock’s general attitudes.
The Coca-Cola commercial, on the other hand, is a beautiful depiction of collaboration. It echoes the famous Coke ad of the 1970’s that shows a group of people from all over the world singing “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” For me, these Coke commercials exude all of the human values we esteem – but too often fail to practice. Harmony, sharing, gentleness, humility, and most of all love. The polar bears work and reach together for the moon – all so they can share a Coke – which the commercial implies is an inspirational symbol of unity.
For many reasons, that brief commercial strikes an emotional cord in me – one that reminds me of love I have for those I’m close to. It’s warm, endearing and yes, even feminine, in how it champions affectionate care and selflessness above all else.
Collaboration as a practice or value is one I advocate for GNH perhaps the most. It’s a primary one I hope to myself become better at – and one I encourage this congregation to practice in all it does and says.
Collaboration gets at the heart of who and what we want to be. Without a collaborative spirit, I don’t believe we can be truly loving, generous, open minded, humble, or concerned about issues of justice. Collaboration is what the eight billion residents of this planet implicitly want to do. We want human connection. We want the kind of intimacy with others that is comforting and affirming. We want connection with others from the moment we are born, until the moment we pass.
I recall last May when my father died. My siblings and I gathered around him in the intensive care unit, held his hands, and together, as his life faded away, jointly shared with him all he meant to us and how we loved him. Much like in the Coke commercial, we too were reaching for the moon in one of life’s most poignant moments. Together, we wanted to send him into eternity knowing his life had meant something and that, most of all, he could die knowing he was deeply loved. That exemplifies for me the kind of connected collaboration we seek with others – something that only happens when people intentionally come together to achieve something greater than themselves.
When we think of collaboration as an idea, however, we too often think of it in everyday, practical terms. Teamwork, cooperation, sharing. Those are essential components of the idea, but collaboration expresses all of the human values we believe in.
If we want democracy in this congregation, in our cities and in our nation, we must collaborate. That means we will each have opinions about various matters, but we intentionally agree to live together as one people and to collaborate in a way that allows church members, city dwellers and US citizens to co-exist peacefully. Democracy, in order to work, requires respect for all. It demands listening to others. It expects all will be treated equally. None of these things can happen unless we cooperate, collaborate and, yes, learn to compromise and even lose a debate, or an election, with grace.
If we want healthy and thriving romantic relationships, families and friendships, we also must collaborate. That means we recognize in these intimate relationships that each person has value and each has something worthwhile to contribute. We don’t impose a hierarchy in our relationships – that one person is better than another. And we communicate as lovers, parents, children, siblings or friends with open generosity and humility. We may challenge one another from time to time – but that is done with the aim to encourage and inspire. Indeed, to lovingly and gently challenge spouses, family members or friends is a hallmark of close relationships. We implicitly trust that the other wants what is best for us. People in close relationships lift up and never tear down. Once again, we cannot do any of these things unless we collaborate.
If we want success in the work we do – here at church, at our workplaces, or in our justice advocacy, we too must collaborate. That means we listen, we empathize, we don’t judge, and yes, once again, we compromise and find common ground. We engage in the sharing of ideas and encourage a diversity of thought. Only with a collective blending of best ideas can we find solutions that work.
Finally, if we want genuine peace in our homes, churches and world, we must above all things collaborate. Rigid, confrontational and self-focused thinking is what leads to conflict. And that, sadly, is too often caused by patriarchy. As was shown in the study of student collaboration, men too often refuse to compromise and cooperate. Those are signs of weakness many men believe. I admit to sometimes being prone to this thinking too. Our culture demands that men not appear weak.
But history’s battlefields are littered with the bodies of young men – sent off to war to prove that a particular leader or nation is stronger and more manly. Homes, churches, schools, businesses and governments are similarly littered with lives destroyed by fake masculinity – that of arrogance and self-important attitudes.
Time and again, however, humility, collaboration and compromise are shown to be ironically more powerful. Gandhi and Martin Luther King showed their true strength in acting and speaking non-violently. Jesus taught that the meek and gentle shall inherit the earth and that only peacemakers are worthy of God’s blessing. Ramadan, month long fasting and five times daily prayer for Muslims are ways to sublimate themselves before forces of love greater than themselves. The same is so for Hindus and Buddhists who, perhaps more than any others, intentionally work to diminish their egos in order to find lasting peace and enlightenment.
Moving from selfishness – to selflessness – is one of the hardest things we do. Being too self focused is my number one life obstacle. Such thinking has a number of negative manifestations, but for us today, collaboration stands as a primary response. When we cooperate with others, when we humble ourselves and our opinions, when we genuinely listen, share and love, we tap into all that is good and effective. We need to get in touch with parts of ourselves that are vulnerable, that yearn for connection, and as I’ve said in my three messages this month – that many people consider feminine. We need to abandon vestiges of patriarchal egotism that can exist in both men and women. We need to collaborate, compromise and ultimately love enemy and friend alike.
May that be so with me, as I pray it is with you.