In an aggressive, capitalistic society, collaboration flies in the face of many unquestioned values. It contradicts our belief that maintaining an orderly world where each person has their own territory is the assumed goal. In a world like that, collaboration doesn’t make a lot of sense. In the aforementioned article, the writer outlined a situation which sounded less like collaboration and more like forcing people to compete while paying lip service to the idea of working together. Like a three-legged race, collaboration is a bad idea if your only aim is to win first place.
But what if collaboration is asking us to imagine a different system entirely?
I remember first coming face-to-face with my own fears of collaboration. Susann and Thom had welcomed me, a loner artist with little classical training, into the community of ætherplough with wide open arms. Sitting on the back porch one night, music reverberating from the basement, I feverishly rattled off a list of self-doubts that had bubbled to the surface in the unfamiliar heat of creative vulnerability.
Working intimately with a team of artists I both respected and feared, I was asked to give up control, to stop oscillating between feelings of grandeur and worthlessness and instead to step into trust, replacing comparison with the assumption that each person’s vision contained the potential for beauty.
In a world organized into hierarchies where someone is always at the top, collaboration feels like getting away with something forbidden and wild. Collaboration doesn’t imply the absence of leadership; there are still final decisions to be made and roles to be clarified. But if we’re concerned about a situation where a small number of people have complete, unchecked power over everyone else, then we need to admit that collaboration is a part of the alternative, that it is necessary in every forum from classrooms to research hospitals to theaters.
Collaboration asks us to forfeit our illusions of total independence, to reinvent our fantasies of keeping a safe distance from anything that could touch us and therefore hurt us. Collaboration means rethinking our addiction to the autonomy that feels at first like a refuge and later like a prison. It means admitting that creative thinking is a sham if the only goal is to make something and place it behind glass.
Collaboration asserts that creativity is actually a ‘way of being’, not an outcome – an ongoing editing process between the past and the future when, if we’re lucky, others will witness our work and experience it in ways we never intended. This is to be celebrated.
Collaboration says: let yourself be altered. Get out from behind the glass, or maybe press your body against it just to see what that feels like, fog it up with your breath and write a message in the steam. Collaboration is about worshipping something other than productivity – curiosity.