Co-operation: the key to achieving life’s greatest goals

Here’s a riddle for you. What do fairy wrens have in common with riders in the Tour de France?

On first inspection it would seem very little. But if we learn to look at them as examples of cooperative behaviour, they can both shed their own light on the same important lesson.

I’ve been pondering our sense of individuality and the ego, our sense of I, me and mine, that comes hand in hand with it. In Yoga that ego is called Asmita, and our mission, should we choose to accept it, entails a lifelong commitment to learning how to tame the demands, false judgements and tantrums of the ego, and to ultimately transcend them.

One way we can learn to transcend the ego is by learning to co-operate with others around us – working towards the common good, rather than feeding our personal desires.

Cyclists on a racing team have this lesson drummed into them in the starkest way. For every individual who sprints to the line in glory at the end of a hard day’s ride, there are a squadron of equally strong riders who each sacrifice their own chance of victory in order to set a winning pace for their teammate and to shelter him from the attacks of others. At the end of thousands of gruelling kilometres, theirs are not the grinning faces on the back page of the newspaper spraying champagne into the crowd. A tough blow to the ego perhaps, but their fulfilment has to come from the victory of the team.

You can see the same principle at work in the world of the fairy wren, where chicks from one year’s brood stay with their parents to help them raise the next generation brood. In this way they sacrifice their biological pre-programming for the survival of the family and the species. And fairy wrens are not the only ones banding together for the common good: lionesses form crèches with their young and suckle each other’s cubs.

The natural and human worlds offer us constant reminders that a large part of achieving things in this life is about putting our individual “will to win” behind us, and learning to help others – to work for the greater good. We may never win a stage of the Tour de France but that’s not to say we don’t achieve victories of our own in the most important arena of all – our quest for peace and a fulfilled life.

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