Sunday’s Wisdom #407: Working Together

“Guys, you’re all so talented and imaginative, but you can’t work together as a team. I’m just a construction worker, but when I had a plan and we were all working together, I mean, we could build a skyscraper! Now you are Master Builders. Just imagine what could happen if you did that! You could save the universe.”
– Emmett, The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie is a kids’ movie, yet it speaks to a very primal struggle within the human condition. On one side is Lord Business, representing man’s desire for order, security, and the peace of predictability, of knowing one’s place in life, what one needs to do, because one has the instructions for it. But go too far that way and one easily slides into tyranny, conformity, control, and stagnation. On the other side are the Master Builders, representing freedom, individuality, and creativity, but also chaos and confusion. There are pros and cons to both sides, and the struggle of humanity is to find a balance between the two.

When Emmett says this, specifically, he’s talking to the Master Builders, who are very talented and creative and manage to see all sorts of strange and unusual possibilities which would never occur to him. However, they’re losing their fight against a monolithic enemy because they can’t work together. They’re too independent, and too hung up on being their special selves. They need to learn to give a little ground, to conform a little, if only to each other. Only then can they combine their magnificent skills and overcome their enemy.

Emmett’s example is a very good one. Construction workers are not exactly famous for their nonconformity, are they? They take direction and follow instructions, each man putting forth a great deal of effort, day after day after day. And the results of their work are not instantaneous, but slowly, slowly, the work of their hands takes shape, resulting in a marvel of ingenuity, engineering, and modern technology, reaching from the ground that these workers come from, all the way up to touch the clouds.

Isn’t that remarkable?

Of all the wonders of our civilization, which were conceived by learned, genius scholars, how many would have been built without the humble workers who were simply doing their part, earning their way, and working together as a team?

Every magnificent, awe-inspiring edifice, every inch of the sewers which greatly enhance the hygiene of our cities, vast networks of electrical power, highways and railroads that cross nations and continents like spiderwebs, airplanes and airports, universities and research facilities, hospitals and homes… quite nearly everything that gets built is built by all of us, together, and look how wondrous it is!

And yet we take it all for granted every day, don’t we? Just like the people who did the building are taken for granted. We idolize the geniuses, the innovators, the masterminds, the weirdos who buck trends and walk to the beat of their own drum, often to the point that they don’t work well with others. Such people are important, of course, but not more important or more special than everyone else. Even the greatest of visionaries is worthless without the mundane worker to support them, just as the mundane worker needs a visionary leader to employ them.

Balance is essential to life. To find balance within oneself is a lifelong quest, and it doesn’t often reach a conclusion in this life. That’s why we need each other, with all of our skills, experiences, perspectives, and jobs, so that we can all balance each other out as a community.

If we can just manage that much, if we can just work together regardless of politics, religion, race, class, creed, or anything else… well, just imagine what we could achieve!

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