Moving from Compromise to Cooperation

A couple of weeks ago, in my piece on Getting back to What Really Matters, I talked about the importance of understanding our core needs. Doing so has many powerful uses. One of them is that it can help cultivate greater flexibility and responsiveness amidst the changes that life presents. I might not always be able to have my movie night, but if I understand what is being satisfied at a deeper level, then with a little thought I can find alternatives that are available to me right now. This is one way of taking a different approach to situations where compromise is necessary and where compromise can be treated as a chance to expand our repertoire rather than sacrifice our deepest and very real needs.

I want to continue on this notion of creative compromise, particularly where it applies to working with other people. This is particularly relevant for creative people, but also people in business, people working in organisations where there is a clear hierarchy – pretty much everyone actually.

The core of it is this. Sometimes we are presented with a situation where we are told to do things that we don’t want to do. Now, there are usually two basic options. We can put our pride aside and do what’s asked without making a fuss, or we can refuse the request. If you’re anything like me, the first choice can be a hard one to swallow. It can feel like a loss. It can feel disempowering, something that goes against the very fibres of our being. The good thing about feelings is that they pass. However, the second option can have some serious consequences depending on what kind of authority has made the request. Imagine a film director being asked to make certain changes to their film by the producer or the production studio. Refusing to cooperate might threaten the entire project and everything that flows from it for all involved.

In my thinking, like the compromise situation, this can be framed as a loss – a loss of creative power – or it can be treated as an opportunity to learn, grow, and create. It depends on whether and to what extent the request actually undermines our project as a whole.

More than being about compromise, this is about the importance of cooperation to achieve our long-term outcomes. A wise mentor of mine once told me. “You may have lost the battle but you can still win the war”. I like this analogy because it’s obvious that it is the long-term victory that matters.

A couple of points on the hero’s journey…

When we baulk at having to work with others, to modify ‘our’ way slightly, and we can’t see beyond this, we are also experiencing an important and natural phase of the journey of growth and transformation. The refusal is an important part of the hero’s journey. Usually it occurs around the beginning of the quest. In life though, the journey is more like a spiral, even multiple interconnecting spirals. Beginning each new loop, we are presented with a challenge. We might become aware of the beginning of a new loop, and this sense of refusal, when pain comes up, mental or physical, and when we experience suffering. One thing I’ve learned though is that when an experience is bringing up this kind of stuff, we’re being given a chance to learn some great things that will lift our whole game to another whole level. If all we do is try to block out the pain or blame others for our suffering we deny ourselves the gems that these opportunities provide.

And another thing… One of the myths about the hero is that they go it alone. It often appears like this, but invariably they achieve their greatest feats when they work within society rather than against it. They learn to put their ego aside for the long-term interests of the community. They learn the value of cooperation and even collaboration to achieve great success. They learn that it’s not about ‘I’. It’s about something greater than that – the collective wellbeing. And so the limited notion of self is shed, sometimes in the form of self-sacrifice, as they embrace this larger world.


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