Collaboration vs. Competition: Establishing a Culture of Camaraderie from ‘Within’

“When spiders unite, they can tie down a Lion.” – Ethiopian Proverb

One thing I found overwhelming during my recent dissertation fieldwork in Pakistan was the willingness of so many people to support me in my research endeavors. It was nearly impossible for me to respond to everyone I wanted to meet before I left, which was quite an amazing feeling.

I tried to go without any expectations, given it was my pilot assessment with an exploratory component. But nevertheless, the enormous support exceeded my expectations. I am hopeful there can be some value from this research. And I am excited to return to Pakistan in the fall.

It is my belief that the supportive nature and collaborative mentality, central to some of the themes of my research on community-led development programs and social capital building, is what can make lasting changes in society. And it starts at a basic level of human interaction.

From one of my conversations with a Pakistani academic in my trip to Faisalabad, I learned that a lot of people or groups don’t wish to collaborate on important issues because of jealousy and competition. In the conversation, he called them a “community” or “organization of back-biters” and suggested that jealously is what has led them to become “enemies,” in a context in which I am not at the liberty to share or discuss at the current time. But this is evident even when groups and organizations are working towards the same goal. It is obviously not a new revelation, but unfortunately it is inherent within human nature, and needs to be addressed more openly.

I had been reflecting on his comments a lot during my times in Pakistan and since I returned, as it connected the dots for me at a personal level. Something that I feel has been present in my life, and which I had been sensing even more recently. The emotion of jealously and the drive to compete against others is something I have always had a problem with, and always found it so difficult to understand. The problem is that this sentiment at an individual level can have serious implications to the sentiments at the collective level, especially if exhibited by people in “influential roles.”

In a piece I recently wrote on the Fundamentals of the Balti: From Personal to Human Development in Pakistan, I discuss what I found to be a necessary “conscious immersion” with the Balti, which was intended to embrace an active mindset to conserve water in Pakistan from the basic individual level. I think the same goes for other areas, especially when we touch on the topic of relationships and collaboration in public policy.

Emotion is sometimes socially taboo to discuss but ironically inescapable from most things. We are inherently emotional human beings. I am not sure we can truly remove emotion from anything.

Unfortunately, jealously is a contagious emotion. And sadly, I do feel, if you are an ambitious person, you will have endless encounters to people in your life who will be jealous of you and who will find ways to bring you down and make you feel less. Because I abhor this emotion, I try my best to at least save myself from it. That is the best that we can do. It is difficult not to compare yourself to others, but we are human, and we do it.

The tricky thing about jealously is that you can smell it in different forms, from miles away, and even through the computer screens. I believe in certain circumstances there wouldn’t be such a hesitancy to collaborate, in part, if we actually had a mentality of “collaboration” or “working together” rather than a mentality of “competition.”

We must stop thinking of people and groups doing something valuable or similar to what we stand for, as competitors or threats and think about them as potential collaborators and bridges. Be supportive. We should have a “working together” mentality among people with the same goals, not a “working against.” Maybe this is myopic mindset but if we only worked among and with people we agree with or have favorable views about, it would continue to further the tension and rifts and destroy possible bridges.

I believe it starts from the heart at an individual level. It is partly why we want the powerful leaders in our communities to exhibit good character. If they have the power to touch the masses, and emotion is contagious, you want a leader that has the ability and temperment to work on their character and emotion.

Further, those dangerous emotions of jealousy and competition can create barriers to supporting the success of people who could one day be serving you or helping you succeed. This is an essential part of character building at a very basic level when in pursuit of public service.

Sadly, I see such attitudes of jealously, intimidation, competition embedded in our communities at times, especially among women, but certainly with universal underpinnings. Women need to be there for each other more, and perhaps that culture is changing, but we need to be conscious of that.

This observation has been supported by some personal experiences I have had in my own communities.  I share this largely to elevate a subject no one likes to talk about for the purpose of recognizing “bad habits” and changing them.

At a universal level, there is much “reflexive learning” necessary to ensure a collaborate culture that roots for the success of people working towards the same objectives. Support people, work together, collaborate. Not just in speech or writing, but actually in action.

Too often we get lost in the ambition. Ambition is good. But most people won’t want to see you succeed. As someone who struggles with depression, when moments of joy come, I embrace it for as long as I can.  And when I am doing something good, when I am completing big milestones, it is nice to see people rooting for me. When I am actually being expressive of those moments of happiness, I sometimes wish the people around me or the people who love me, would be happy for me. But then I have to remind myself that I am NOT fighting in pursuit of my dreams for them, but for me or something greater than me.

Jealously is really a terrible emotion. We should support, cheer, and serve one another, while embracing and valuing our own unique strengths and accomplishments. It is important to try not to give into that emotion. It has a dividing impact, rather than a uniting impact. On my end, if I am not in the race, I will always be, on the sidelines, cheering for you. You can count on me to be there if you need me to tell you that you are somebody, and you will make important contributions in the world.

….I will always be a proponent of collaboration over competition when it comes to working on the causes that I care about. I understand it is a little more complicated than the way I have expressed it here, but it won’t be too difficult to simplify things if we talk about it. And, if we are going to fix the epidemic of jealously, we will have to continue working on ourselves, and become leaders or examples in our own little networks and communities.

As Gandhi said: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” 

Peace, Warmth, and Blessings


Warrior KQueen


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