When this old picture of girl guides putting up a tent popped up on my screen, it inspired these thoughts. I can’t actually remember the conversation that went on during the tent-construction enterprise, but I can imagine it just from the body language of the people in the photo.
It’s easy to get along with other people when we don’t actually have to get anything done. When we need to accomplish something with others, though, then we realize a few things about ourselves.
- We don’t really communicate very well. We know exactly what we intend while we are thinking about it, but when we come to explaining whatever-it-is to other people we discover that they don’t quite get our meaning. In fact, sometimes they misunderstand us completely.
- We wish we could just do the darned thing on our own. Having to work with other people is really annoying.
- Sometimes, other people aren’t as keen as we are to get the thing done. In fact, they don’t care if it takes all day or if it gets done badly. We are the ones who care, and we don’t understand why they don’t.
- We can’t rely on other people to do what they say they will do. We are always reliable. They are not.
- We make value judgements about people who we think are not as smart or efficient as we are.
- When we are the only ones who can see how a thing should be done, we get bossy.
- When we can’t understand why people don’t just follow our directions, we get a little bit loud.
I noticed this photo the day after the Brexit vote and it occurred to me that all of my observations about trying to put up a tent could be applied to Britain’s frustrations with the European Union. It’s a big project, involving lots of people who don’t really know each other very well. They try to involve everyone, but that becomes unwieldy.
Inevitably, some people just take over the main tasks, like holding up the top rail, and they give directions to others to complete the smaller but still necessary tasks, like putting the pegs in the ground. While this is going on, some people just stand around and watch. They know it will get done eventually, and they don’t care who does it.
When you have put up a tent, you have to sleep in it no matter how badly it has been erected. When you have been given bad advice on how to do that, you might find that the sides sag so that the rain comes in during the night. Everyone wakes up wet, cranky, and determined to get better information on tent construction in the future.
If your international cooperation tent falls down, though, it’s a bit more serious. You are stuck in a muddy puddle, wondering how the heck this happened. In the morning, you’ll figure out a new plan, but some people are going to be reluctant participants. After all, you didn’t want their advice before, so now they are going to watch and see how well you do without them.