I had the incredible opportunity last week to work with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I was able to gather them together in a room and we had the most fabulous time solving some really significant problems. Eventually I’ll post more about that on my Computing Education blog. But that meeting was able to come about because while I was away over the winter break I had a startling realization. A lot of the problems I have been trying to solve have been driving me insane, and I couldn’t see how to fix things.
And then it dawned on me. I was trying to fix them alone.
Fixing things alone is not my superpower. Bringing people together? That I can do. So that’s what I’ve spent the last 6 months doing, and now things are changing for me, and for the problems I am trying to solve, in fairly spectacular ways.
One of the great side effects of that meetings was that we talked fiction over lunch, and I got to collect a list of recommended reads from people I really admire. So I started reading one of them – “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss – this week. It’s well written and a gripping read. An excellent way to start my summer holidays. But there’s an aspect of it that is really getting up my nose. It’s the same reason I struggle to read the Harry Potter books. A lot of the plot hinges on the fact that the protagonist refuses to ask for help.
Now look. I get this. I do. Asking for help is not my thing. Not until I am too close to breaking – possibly a little past. Ok, maybe a lot past. It’s perfectly plausible. But the older I get the more I realise my strength resides in the intensity, and number, of my relationships. In the people who come when I call, and even more in the people who come before I call, knowing that the calling itself is hard for me.
In the people who leap at ideas I have for teamwork. In the people who say “hell yes, I’m far too busy for this, but let’s do it anyway!” In the people who can lift me when I’m down, keep me grounded when I’m up, and wield the frying pan of enlightenment, gently, but firmly, where it’s needed.
This isn’t just my greatest strength. This is where humanity shines, when it’s not tearing itself down. This very needing each other, this ability to create astonishing synergy, and build a remarkable whole out of disparate parts. This is humanity’s crowning achievement. This is how we build great walls, Snowy River Hydro systems, and supportive societies.
I see it in my daughter’s primary school, which has the most extraordinary community, sparked by a quite remarkable Principal. I see it in my own workplace, where people push themselves beyond reasonable limits, but always have something extra to give when a student, or colleague, needs it.
I even see it on Facebook, where a post about a problem brings any number of supportive responses, and even tangible help. Where people offer solutions, hugs, and understanding.
Sometimes we focus on our differences, and on all that’s wrong with the world. Goodness knows there’s plenty of fodder for that. And we wonder what we can do about it.
Alone? Not much, really.
But together? Together we can move mountains.
This is why I get a little frustrated by books where the protagonist has a great support network but refuses to call on it. We have this unthinking adulation of independence that is seriously counterproductive. We admire the hero who goes it alone, when we’d be far better off idolizing the hero who builds a team that saves the world together.
It’s teamwork, ultimately, that can save us. Not the Bruce Willis style hero who grumpily saves the world without help. Not the Rambo rampaging alone through the forest. It will be the teams of scientists who share the credit to solve big problems. The politicians who cross the floor to vote for something they believe in. The people who can rally others to their cause.
It will be our ability to come together and outshine the sun, not our ability to burn out alone, that determines our future. Maybe it’s time we celebrated that.