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In The Spirit of Cooperation

By Michael Strelcheck

In philosophical theory there’s this rather vague principle that proclaims: consciousness follows the line of least resistance. As a young student I recall wrestling with that idea – for when I’d look at life it appeared just the opposite – people appeared to be struggling day to day just to survive. To me their struggling suggested that individuals were fighting against something or taking the “line of resistance!” At times it seemed as if our adversary was life itself and that it was trying to cause us to fail, and if we didn’t stay vigilant we could be pulled under by its’ tumultuous current. I certainly knew I felt that way at the time.

As I’ve gotten older it’s easier to understand the meaning of the principle. The idea suggests that people tend to live by acting through “familiar” patterns of behavior. Since these actions are familiar, they’re easier to do. If one were to think about what they were about to do, every time they were about to act, that would be a lot of work. Consequently, humans tend to do what’s familiar to them – because it’s easier – even if that action doesn’t really help or work for them. Perhaps it’s because we as humans instinctively try to conserve as much energy as possible, for we never know when we might need it, or maybe we don’t know anything better. But no matter, we will often act out of habit rather than trying something different.

One of the main problems with our human nature lies in its’ individualistic drive to survive. Every human, at a gut level, feels the need to work at taking care of themselves. As individuals we need to eat; we need to rest; we need to feel safe. Goodness, we even feel the need to breathe. After all – if you don’t take care of yourself – who will? All those needs keep a person pretty busy, so it’s no wonder that people try to take the easiest path! Unfortunately, trying to fulfill all those needs keeps a person pretty self-focused and they can forget that there are others in their life, that if worked with cooperatively, can make surviving, and dare I say prospering, easier. Learning that is one of life’s wonderful lessons, and if we take a minute, we may recall experiencing a situation earlier in our life that tried to teach us that. If I may, let me share just such an experience that I didn’t come to appreciate until many years later.

As a young child, whenever my parents went out for an evening, apart from the kids (which there were four of us), my father would go get an elderly woman who courageously served as our babysitter. I say that because all of us were less than 10 years old at the time. She was a lovely Christian woman, Mrs. Riepl, who had raised her family on a nearby farm. As soon as my parents drove out the driveway it was like a bomb went off in the house and all hell broke loose. In a matter of minutes, a somewhat orderly household was transformed into a storm of chaotic activity. Mrs. Riepl would sit quietly and watch us tear around through the rooms, I suppose hoping we would get it out of our systems, but like always, rather than the din lessening, the noise level would just continue to rise. After a while our joyous enthusiasm (brought on by being let loose from the totalitarian rule of our parents) took a more negative turn. We began to pick on each other and infighting began. Soon the screams of joy turned to shouts and acts of anger. Mrs. Riepl, witnessing this, would get up and dutifully try to calm us down, but as we all know, once kids get on that train they are hard to derail. After an hour or so of the melee Mrs. Riepl’s tolerance level would finally hit the ceiling and she would empathically cry out: “Why can’t you children just get along!” But by that time we were all too intent on expressing our unhappiness, too busy trying to defend ourselves, too busy resisting each other to hear her call for cooperation! This situation went on for several years and as I grew older I began to see her and her cry for peace as a weakness – but it’s funny how I never forget it! I can still hear her in my mind – pleading for us to stop being mean to each other.

Looking back at the situation it’s clear that we, as children, were following the line of least resistance by unknowingly acting out in our own self-interest. Call it whatever you want, sibling rivalry, or the need to be the dominant one; we would really get into it.  Mrs. Riepl knew that we loved each other and that had gotten lost in our instinctive and hurtful infighting. It’s clear to me now that she had learned through her own family life that “getting along” or the cooperation between family members helped to preserve a healthy home environment.

Life teaches us that if we are willing to put out the effort and work towards cooperation in our relationships everyone benefits. Families are at their best when members bond together in a common spirit of unity, of mutual support and shared responsibility. Unfortunately, these qualities have to be worked at, for they are more difficult to do because they run counter to our more natural and easier expression of self-preservation.

Importantly, community life, like family life, thrives when individuals work together. To prove this we don’t have to look any further than our own country’s history. Our Union (of individual states) originally came together with a “spirit of cooperation” and through that effort they achieved freedom and created a shared prosperity. Hopefully, in these confusing times that we find ourselves in, we won’t take the path of least resistance and be willing to cooperate with each other.

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