Cooperation: The Art of Living Lives of Generosity and Community
Cooperation is a value that is often prized by parents or teachers of young children. We love when our kids cooperate with each other to solve a problem instead of seeing who can figure out the solution first. Instead of racing to the top of indoor playground, we see our son get on his hands and knees to let his little sister climb on his back to get up to the next step that she just can’t quite reach on her own.
This value of cooperation lessens as kids get older. We begin to value competition more and more- whether that be in sports, academics, workplace or parenting. In our wisdom, we see that it’s only through competition that the world is a better place. Competition gives us better products and services.
Maybe there’s a better way. Perhaps through cooperation, we’ll find that the world becomes a better place, and that we’ll produce better products and services. And maybe through cooperation we’ll find that the Kingdom of God will flourish.
Cooperation at its finest rests on a foundation of generosity and results in community, both of which are deeply supported in Scripture as ways to recognize the Kingdom of God here on earth.
In Suzanne Lyons’ ebook, Cooperative Play: The Antidote for Competition, she highlights anthropologist Margaret Mead’s Cooperation and Competition Among Primitive Peoples written back in 1937. In Mead’s research, she found that the biggest gap between the rich and the poor are in competitive cultures. Reversely, the cultures that were cooperative in nature tended to have a much smaller gap. Of course this makes sense– when people compete, someone wins and someone loses. Those who win gain some type of reward. In our culture, that is often monetary. Those who don’t win, lose, and either don’t gain the reward, or lose something else. Competition is only good for those who win.
Also in Lyons’ book, she raises the point that competition discourages sharing:
“Nathan Ackerman, pioneer of family therapy, wrote: ‘The strife of competition…impairs the mutuality of support and sharing and decreases the satisfaction of personal need.’ In the competitive mindset, we perceive scarcity then battle for goods and hoard them rather than share a perceived abundance” (p. 6).
As citizens of the Kingdom of God, we’re encouraged not to store up treasure for ourselves, but instead to be a generous sort of people.
- Psalm 37:26: They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing.
- Psalm 112:5 God will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.
- Luke 11:40-42 But as for what is inside you- be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
Our God is a God of abundance. In Him, there is no scarcity. He didn’t put us on this earth and say, “Okay kiddos. I only put so much on this earth and my goal for you is to all compete with each other to see who can win. Have fun!” Instead, he encourages us to be generous with one another in resources and in love.
When a group of people are working together towards a common goal, a sense of trust and togetherness is often the result. I remember some of the best times of relational growth happened during times of cooperation- whether that be building houses for Habitat for Humanity, going overseas for a mission trip, or raising children.
Of course, Jesus knew the importance of deep-seated community, and prayed for all believers to have this sense of community, or “oneness” about them.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
This oneness that he prayed for in John 17 is not simply a “go team!”, but it’s a deep connectedness and love– that which is like the oneness between Jesus and the Father.
Unfortunately, Christians are not known for our cooperation. Denominations are prolific. Churches compete for people, wanting to be better than the church down the street. Christians strive to be better than other Christians- a better missionary, a better scholar, a better speaker, a better writer, a better parent, a more “moral” person.
But why? Our need for competition often flows from our loneliness and our low self-esteem. We lack deep community and can’t imagine what it’s like to want others to succeed more than we want ourselves to succeed. Deep down, we don’t believe that we are dearly loved and wonderfully made and incredibly gifted by God to partner with Him in the restoration of the world. We have something to prove- whether that be to ourselves, to others, or to God.
So, what does this all have to do with playing board games? I know that we live in a culture that is bombarded with competition. I can’t get away from it, and I know my kids can’t either. I certainly can’t shield them from it, but I do want to give them a fighting chance. So, I buy a few cooperative board games. I praise them when they solve a problem together. I celebrate those few and far between instances when my son forgets about himself and plays just to have fun. I look for the good in others, instead of always comparing myself (i.e. competing), and teach my girls to do the same. I compliment. I encourage. I celebrate. In hopes that by doing so, my tiny portion of the world will see the love of Christ.