On the Nature of Collaboration

On the Nature of Collaboration

Consider this my love letter to collaboration.

I have often said that if it was God’s intention to create the perfect work partner for me Marilyn Rackelman would have been the result. As it happens, Marilyn and I taught art happily together for some thirteen years. And she was perfect for me in every way. She is a Florida girl like me, smart, so kind, and a wildly talented artist. We ate lunch together every day, sharing our lives and the work of creating an art department that the students we loved deserved, despite the relentlessly ridiculous hoops we had to jump through to satisfy the Florida Department of Education. No one was the boss. We simply shared our different strengths, as well as our great weakness, a profound reluctance to do paperwork. And somehow it all worked.

I have never been interested in being the boss. At the same time, I have never enjoyed being bossed. Instead, I am always called to collaboration. There’s something about the lack of hierarchy and the respectful exchange of ideas that seems to enhance creativity. To quote Bob Sullo, “Collaboration is valuable because it helps us transcend our individual limits and create something greater than ourselves.” This ‘creation of something greater than ourselves’ can be in the form of something tangible, such as an invention, a piece of art, an event, or something intangible, such as a community, a connection, a respect. Most times collaboration is a beautiful mixture of both the tangible and the intangible, and this is what moves me.

I love the respectful spaciousness of collaboration. Much like the respectful listening that follows the bowing in and bowing out, before and after one speaks in a Buddhist sangha, collaborators give each other the space to express themselves. There is no hurry. They listen to each other deeply and find enjoyment and understanding in what the other has to say. Creativity and understanding thrive in an environment of spaciousness…and so do I.

I have also come to love the merging of ideas. Sometimes the ideas simply fit together like puzzle pieces. Sometimes it’s a matter weaving them together. Sometimes, and this is so exciting when it happens, a completely new and novel idea emerges from the collaboration. That big ‘A Ha!’ moment between collaborators is always a cause for celebration.

For me collaborating has always been more than the sharing of ideas and creating together. It is about relationship. The act of collaboration is to truly see the other for who they are…to listen to them…to respect them…and to wonder at their humanity and genius. To collaborate is to love.

And lastly, collaboration is the way of the natural world. Nothing in nature exists solely on its own. Everything exists in relationship to the other. When I walk, I am profoundly aware of the biodiversity that exists in the soil beneath my feet. I look at the trees and I am aware of the role they play in my ability to breathe. I am aware of my many ancestors and how I would not exist in this present moment without them. I understand that I am a future ancestor and that my
efforts contribute to the lives of my descendants. When I walk, I am in awe of the wonder of our collaborative existence.

As I look back it’s no wonder that I chose to write a love letter to collaboration. It has always brought me closer to what I value most in my life…love, respectful relationship, creativity, and being in step with the natural world. But please, also consider this an open love letter to all of those that I have been blessed to collaborate with. I see you; I honor you, and I celebrate you. And most of all, I love you. Thank you for enriching my life in more ways than you can ever know.

About Author