Recently, I posted this status on Facebook:
Why be competitive when you can be collaborative? Why be the winner when you can help create the winning team?
Someone decided to make the argument that “no one remembers Charles Lee,” which was problematic for three reasons.
I know who Charles Lee is, and knew without Googling it.
Team players are far more successful (in general) than solo acts, and I don’t like playing the dark horse odds.
I don’t particularly care about being “remembered.” Whether I am remembered or not is out of my control.
To address the first point: Charles Lee was a general during the Revolutionary War (and not a very good one) who served under George Washington (who you have definitely heard of). His point was, of course, that it’s better to be George Washington than Charles Lee. The thing is, George Washington didn’t appoint himself to be General of the Revolutionary Army. He didn’t elect himself to be President. Much of his correspondence was handled by others. Without even discussing the very nature of our government, the ultimate Mythic man of the United States didn’t exist alone. Washington was an epic team player. After all, just because he was the Captain doesn’t mean he wasn’t on the team. The story is currently dramatized in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (the soundtrack is great, by the way).
Third point: I studied C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien fairly extensively in college, and one of the things I found out was that they didn’t write their books by themselves. While they ultimately were the only authors of their books, they (and a large group of friends called The Inklings) worked on manuscripts together, taking notes and suggestions (both large and small). Of course The Lord of the Rings wouldn’t have happened without J.R.R. Tolkien, but it wouldn’t have been finished without Lewis and without Tolkien’s son, Christopher. They were playing for each other’s teams. Not every Inkling is famous. Not every Inkling wanted to be. Not every Inkling was a frequently published author. What they did have in common was a friendly and collaborative spirit: when someone brought an unfinished work, they jumped on their team (and when that didn’t happen, the whole group suffered).
Hemingway wrote scathing indictments of everyone who helped him to make it look like he was a self-made author. The fact that I know that tells you that it didn’t work. It’s fantastic that we remember Emily Dickinson (who did work mostly by herself), but her writing was unknown during her own lifetime, and while she’s remembered, she didn’t get to enjoy the collaboration and encouragement of fellow writers during her lifetime. In later life, she was a bit of a bitter old hag.
Which brings me to my third point: I don’t get to decide whether I’m remembered or for what. As a Christian, I’m also not sure if what I am remembered for on earth will be the thing that God considers important. If I read the Bible correctly, the time I’ve spent with people, comforting them, providing food and water and shelter and love, is more valuable than speaking in all the tongues of men and of angels. I don’t know basketball that well, but I’ve heard of Michael Jordan, and from what I understand he played for a team called the Chicago Bulls, and there were five people (at least four of whom were not Jordan) on the court at any given time. While Jordan’s the name I remember, I’d be willing to bet the other players were valuable, and that if they had sucked, Jordan wouldn’t have been able to lead the team where he did. The Chicago Bulls are memorable because Jordan is. I’m sure there are players (whose names I don’t know) who can be proud to have played on the team during the Jordan years. They won together.
Recently, I read a book by Hank Green called An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (Spoilers Ahead, the podcast Rory Delaney and I host, just did an episode about it). While the book is about a lot, one of the things it focuses on is that isolation is harmful. The main character’s success is all about collaboration, and her downfall is her own ego and that she believes herself to be who media tells her she is (the persona she crafted for herself). When she left the team, the team that formed because of and around her, she was vulnerable. And the world is unkind to those recently de-pedestaled.
We make myths out of people. As human beings, we try to make other people larger than life. I can’t control that: I can’t make it happen to me, and I can’t stop it from happening. Social media has made mythologizing people a daily pastime. From everything I’ve seen, playing for the team and being there for my fellow artists and scholars and friends and musicians is the best way for me to grow and is also the way to protect myself from buying into stories told about me. Given a choice, I’d rather be Psyche than Icarus.
Hence, I’m going to remain a person who likes collaborating, who will play rhythm or lead, who will do what I can to become great and will do everything I can to make those around me be great too. When writer buddies write something good, I’ll be sharing it. When I marry, I’ll be on his team and he’ll be on mine. Life is too short for me to wonder what will happen to the memory of me. I’d rather spend my time making that memory.
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