The Indefinable Strength of the Collective

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Like every separate little fibre that constitutes a weightlifter’s bicep, individually we may be frail, but together we are strong. I was always good – never great – in team sports: football, rugby, cricket for school and house, I did ok. If winning mattered to the rest of my team-mates, then it mattered to me. I have always been a team player. When I tried, I really tried and, somehow I seldom passed up the opportunity to get injured. I was, I think, uniquely gifted in the art of self-immolation. I was a regular at A&E where all the nurses knew me as ‘Oh, it’s you again’. Yet, whilst I would give my all for my team, I totally lacked the ‘killer instinct’ required in the dog-eat-dog scenario of individual ‘combat’ – I would have made a terrible (dead) gladiator. Unless I was representing something (the school, a club, the disenfranchised ginger minority), where I still felt part of a team – I backed off if I felt that winning was more important to my opponent than myself. No point in him being pissed when it didn’t bother me. I always wanted to excel, irrespective of how inept I was, unless doing so impacted negatively on my opponent, when all desire to grind them into the dust dissipated instantly. Like a politician’s promise when faced with the truth. Unfortunately, I was seldom afforded such leeway when I was being crap at stuff (and there was much such stuff) but somehow, it never really concerned me. I didn’t mind losing, as long as I felt confident that I could win if I really wanted to. It was often only when I was floundering badly, that I really wanted to win.
Now, I realise that this makes me sound incredibly weak, but I have to point out that such decisions were never consciously taken. I was aware only of the very vague notion that I probably couldn’t be bothered anymore, but that was it really, unless I was actually losing, in which case I tried really hard. If there was competition, I was fiercely competitive. One thing I have discovered is that age drives all competitiveness out of you – unless it is who will live the longest, I don’t want to know. Mind you, if the rules for competitive chocolate eating were ever to be formalised, I suggest the organisers give me a call…
People talk of being ‘a small cog’ in a larger machine, but I’ve never thought of myself in that way. Generally, if a cog, however small, fails, so does the machine – try taking one out of a clock. There are no irrelevant cogs. Real life is not like that, is it? Be truthful with yourself: if you didn’t turn up for work because, say, your bunion was giving you gyp, would everybody else just down tools saying, ‘Well, it’s just not worth going on, is it?’ and go home to watch Bargain Hunt with a cup of tea and a Hobnob? No. Without you, the team may well be weakened, but it would still be a team. It would still go on exactly as before – although the biscuits might last longer. This is the strength of the collective: not that it fails without one, but that it continues, only just short of its potential. And yet, in order to be fully effective, it requires all of its functioning members to play their part. In that respect, the weakest member of a team is just as important as the strongest. All successful teams have the cherry on the cake – the star performer – that makes them special. All successful teams have the, what do they actually bring to the party? member, that the rest of the team knows are absolutely vital for some indefinable reason that even they cannot quantify: Ringo Starr, Posh Spice, The non-drinker on a stag night. The kind of person that neither captain wants in their team but, never-the-less is never the last to be chosen.
In life, like sport, there are times, when all that you want is a little support, and when it doesn’t come your way, it hurts far more than it probably should. It is like being thrown off the team because you are crap. You are Ringo Starr. Your sole contribution is to be Octopus’s Garden. Perhaps you need to find yourself another team. Maybe in a team full of misfits, the outsiders can conform and, together, the weak can be strong and the meek could just possibly inherit the Earth – if only the big boys would put it down.