DOMINICAN FAMILY COLLABORATION AND MISSION
Quirico Pedregosa, Jr.,O.P.
I—WHAT COLLABORATION IS
Collaboration is not a straightjacket term. It does not have a singular meaning and form of doing it. But, I suspect some imagine it in the opposite way. It would be liberating to take a second look at collaboration and discover that it is, in fact, a pluriform process that takes different stages and shapes.
Description of Collaboration
When speaking of collaboration, it is more productive to begin with a description of it rather than with a definition. A definition can be very limiting. The verb collaborate is taken from two Latin words, cum, meaning with, and laborare, to work. Collaboration literally means working with another. Taking off from that basic meaning, collaboration can be described as a mode of relating and working together, freely entered into by individuals or groups of persons, mutually tapping the gifts of all the participants, for a common goal or mission.
From this description, we see some characteristics of collaboration. First, it is a highly practical thing; it operates on the level of relating and working between at least two parties. The best way to understand it is to see how it happens. One common block to getting people to collaborate is the desire to have first a tight and neat definition of collaboration before starting it. Second, it is a free choice. One enters into it voluntarily; it cannot be imposed from the outside. This allays the fear of anyone being forced to collaborate. Third, it thrives on gift giving. Its life-blood is the mutual giving and receiving of gifts. It is a way of releasing the potentiality and complementarity of gifts. Fourth, it is not an end in itself. It is a means, an instrumental value, for a common activity, project, goal or mission. It is a kind of social or cosmic virtue at the service of a common good.
However, in practice, there is not one singular way of realizing in concrete such description of collaboration. Nor it is possible for the participants to fully realize collaboration as described. It takes time and different bodies of participants realize it in various ways and degrees. Thus, collaboration is pluriform in practice.
Though some people tend to define collaboration in the way or in the degree that their own respective group does it, there is not one form or mode of collaboration. That such is the case makes us approach collaboration as a dynamic and open-ended process. It is open to changes. It evolves from one level to another and from one pattern to another. Instead of speaking of one definitive form of collaboration, it is realistic to speak of levels of collaboration (degrees of achieving collaboration) and patterns of collaboration (patterns of relating and working together among participants).
Levels of Collaboration
I find the levels of collaboration identified by Loughlan Sofield and Carroll Juliano, in their book, Collaboration: Uniting Our Gifts in Ministry , as illuminating and helpful in understanding the how and development of collaboration. They identify, in the field of pastoral ministry, four levels of collaboration, namely: co-existence, communication, cooperation and true collaboration. These four levels evolve in an increasing order in a dynamic process.
Co-existence: at this first level individuals or groups identify with one another in a general way by way of common history, mission, or membership, but, existing separately and without mutual expectations or accountability.
Communication: this level comes about when individuals or groups begin some mutual interaction and dialogue, by sharing information (calendars, programs, activities) and members coming together in meetings and workshops to discuss matters of mutual interest. Such interaction and sharing of information leads to sharing of ideals and values from which a growing sense of bondedness develops.
Cooperation: this level occurs when participants begin to work together or cooperate in joint projects extending mutual support to one another and moving toward interdependence. Oftentimes one participant takes a leading role with the support of others.
Collaboration: interdependence paves the way for true collaboration, which happens when a group: “acknowledges, articulates, and experiences a sense of ownership of a common mission; achieves a sense of unity accompanied by a desire to work together for a common goal” and “decides to identify, value, and bring together the various gifts” of each member.
It would be interesting, using these four levels, to ask at what particular level does the collaborative group to which you belong find itself? It is fine to discover or locate at what level one’s group is. What is crucial is whether the group would desire to grow or develop to the next level? It seems to me that the best way to begin or develop further collaboration is to let the group find its own level, that is, the level at which the members of a group would be committed to start or to develop into.
Patterns of Collaboration
No less illuminating and helpful in understanding the process of collaboration, are the patterns of collaboration, presented by Vera John-Steiner , focusing on the form of mutuality and interdependence among participants. With her own collaborators, John-Steiner has identified, in the field of creativity and sciences, four patterns of collaboration, to name: distributed, complementary, family, and integrative. There is no hierarchy among these patterns as collaboration may begin with any pattern and may shift to another in the course of time.
Distributed: this pattern of collaboration, as for example, in an e-mail network, is “characterized by informal, voluntary roles, similar interests and spontaneous and responsive working methods. Participants exchange information and explore thoughts and opinions. At times they engaged in arguments or in co-constructing new positions.” Activities and participation follow an unpredictable and shifting distribution.
Complementary: in this pattern, the participants “negotiate their goals and objectives” and in order to accomplish them, they “rely on division of labor based on their complementary expertise, disciplinary knowledge, roles and temperaments.” This is the most widely practiced form of collaboration.
Family: occurs when roles and responsibilities in a complementary partnership, like what takes place in a family, become more flexible and with members taking over for each other and helping one another to grow in expertise. A good example is the partnership of the couple Will and Ariel Durant, co-authors of the multi-volume “A Story of Civilization.” The younger, less educated Ariel, from earlier being a helpmate later became an independent researcher and fully engaged partner to her husband’s work.
Integrative: a pattern of collaboration characterized by dialogue, risk-taking and shared sense of mission, which through a long period of committed activity brings about a dynamic fusion of gifts of participants to the point of achieving a common vision or single “voice” in their joint endeavor. A prime example of this was the partnership between Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque who together created the style of cubism in painting.
Looking at these patterns, it is liberating and exciting to know that collaboration has many patterns and it is up to the participants to strike a pattern of their own choice according to their level of mutual openness, trust and commitment to enter into some joint activity or project. We can also ask ourselves in which pattern of collaboration are we engaged in the present or to which pattern are you attracted if you were to collaborate in a venture.
To sum up, collaboration covers a wide and open spectrum of relating and working together in partnerships. It is a dynamic process that a group of participants can freely enter and grow into depending upon their mutual agreement, conviction, commitment and giftedness.
Why the Dominican Family has to collaborate?
Collaboration is not merely an organizational principle but a theological one. To start with, for us as disciples of Christ, “collaboration is a means of becoming who God wants us to be.” He calls and gathers his disciples into a community. Our Christian calling is communitarian in nature. It is rooted upon and is a reflection of the mystery of the Trinity: a communion in life and mission of the divine Persons. It is to the community of his disciples, the Church, to which Jesus entrusts his mission, in which every member has a role and responsibility to play in carrying it out. To each baptized Christian a gift of the Holy Spirit has been given for some benefit (1 Cor 12:7) of the community and her mission. Thus, it is a common calling for Christians to put together their individual persons and gifts, in all their diversity and richness, in the service of the fulfilling the mission given them by the Lord. By their call to community and mission Christians are called to collaborate. By means of collaboration Christians together become what they are called to be: a community of disciples working together in mission.
In a special way, collaboration belongs to our identity as Dominicans. The Dominican Order has been specifically founded for the mission of preaching the gospel. It pertains to the whole Order to carry out that mission. It is a communitarian responsibility in which every member is expected to collaborate according to the needs of mission and one’s gifts and talents. Thus, in our Dominican tradition, the mission of preaching the gospel is entrusted to the whole community. It is the community that preaches. For that reason, the Dominican community had been traditionally referred to as “sacra predicatio”, holy preaching.
Sharing in the mission of the Order, the fundamental identity of every Dominican is that of a preacher of the word of God. But, no Dominican is a preacher in isolation. He or she belongs to and preaches as a member of a Family of Preachers. Preaching is the common mission to which each and every Dominican is called to contribute and participate according to his or her gifts. If indeed, we are Family of Preachers it is not enough for us to be in communion with each other but also to be in collaboration with each other. Hence, as the 1998 Bologna General Chapter puts it: “the most complete manifestation of our total identity is in our collaboration with one another.”
Also the imperative to collaborate underlines our conviction, in the words of Vincent de Couesnongle, “that our charism cannot develop fully within our branch of the Order…Rather it needs the help of everyone else if it is to grow and produce fruit. The effective collaboration of all will multiply the richness of every branch.” In other words, collaboration is not only a demand of fidelity to our identity but a call to mutual development and fecundity in mission.
Moreover, increasing our collaboration in mission has been one of the principal objectives aimed at by the recent General Chapters of brothers and the international and regional structures of the brothers and of the Dominican Family. The challenge is to bring about more concrete ways of collaboration, at the level of respective branches and more importantly at the level of the whole Dominican Family. Collaboration has been identified as a necessary means of building the future of the Dominican Family. As the 2000 International Assembly of the Dominican Family at Manila declares: “Collaboration is our best way forward into the new millennium”, namely, to create our future together as a Family of Preachers.
To sum up, collaboration is an essential mode of our being in mission, of preaching together as Christians and as Dominicans. It is the best way forward for us into the future if we are to become a Family of Preachers, not only in name but also in action.
III—LEARNING TO COLLABORATE
More than a gift, being collaborative is a qualitative capacity that every Dominican has to learn. The process of learning has to take place in every person. The change is from within the person. The question is: what does it take to develop a genuine capacity to collaborate? While learning appropriate skills is needed and important, I would rather emphasize learning the values that will help us develop a capacity to collaborate.
Jesus stands in the gospels as a model of collaboration. He shows us the way to become collaborative. Right from the start of his public ministry he invites others to be part of his life and mission. Mark explains that Jesus chooses “the twelve” in order to be with him and also to send them out to preach (cf. Mk 3:14). His trust in them is astonishing as he sends them out with very little training. He takes the risk of letting them grow with him on the road of preaching the good news. He wants them to desire and to pray for more laborers, for the harvest is great (cf. Mt 9:37-38). He appoints also other seventy-two disciples to go ahead before him to places where he intends to go (cf. Lk 10:1). For Jesus to do mission is to invite others to participate in mission. In fact, he makes his disciples share in his life and work not as paid servants, but intimately as his equals and friends. “I no longer call you slaves but friends, for a slave does not know what his Master is about. I call you friends because I have revealed to you all that I have learned from my Father” (Jn 15: 15-16).
From all these, it can be said that for Jesus collaboration is a means and strategy of preaching consistent with his message of the kingdom of God: the gift of communion between God and people and between the people themselves. Hence, learning to be collaborative is first a question of authenticity—living out the message of communion one preaches in the sphere of doing things. .
Humility leads to the path of becoming collaborative. It creates a space and freedom in one’s heart to see one’s gifts but also one’s limitations. It removes the blinders from one’s eyes to see the giftedness of others and have a realistic appreciation of one’s own. It motivates one to welcome and tap the gifts of others, to make room to their necessary and due participation. It ushers the awareness of one’s need for and interdependence with others in developing one’s potentials and gifts at the service of a common project or ministry. On the practical level, humility teaches one to do things with others in interdependence, in co-responsibility. Thus, learning to be humble is a sure foundation to be collaborative.
Service born of gratitude is a fertile ground for a collaborative spirit to arise. It motivates one to give back something to life; to return a favor, to put in one’s contribution, no matter how small it can be, for the good of others. It urges one to join every good cause, to do whatever one can do to contribute to the good of the community. It impels one to join his gifts with those of others for the sake of a common good, or goal. In effect, one learns in practice to cooperate or collaborate with others, for the sake of service.
Care for the growth and development of each and every person leads to collaboration. In corporate or industrial settings, people set their eyes to the “bottom lines”, that is, on the figures of net profit. As Christians and Dominicans we can do no less but care about the “bottom lines”. But, the bottom lines for us are not figures but people; they are the members of the organization or of the community, especially those at the lowest level. This means that we do not treat them like pawns simply meant to serve the sheer purposes of our community or organization. Rather, we respect and relate with them as free, autonomous and interdependent persons. We care that they develop and grow in their persons; that they grow in their particular gifts and skills as they carry out their designated tasks in the service of the community and its mission. In other words, we take them all, without any exception, as responsible partners, collaborators in the pursuit of the common mission. We take care to empower them to become our collaborators-friends.
IV—LEARNING HERE AND NOW
Where and when to learn to be a collaborative? The answer is to begin now and where one is. The level and context of one’s role or task in the community’s mission does not matter. What matters is to learn not by talking about it but by doing it in practice. Until a group of people initiates a collaborative project or ministry no one learns to do it. Certainly, collaboration is not a smooth process but a messy one. Conviction and commitment are not enough. It requires capacity building: developing readiness and skills among its participants. There can be obstacles or glitches along the way. But, unless one soils one’s hands, plunge into a concrete common project no practical learning takes place. One handy way to do it is by participating in concrete group works, or joint projects. In these structures, one learns by first-hand experience the essentials of a collaborative process: formulation of vision and objectives, identification and discerning of gifts, clarification roles of participants, and the development of requisite skills for collaboration.
In the gospel according to Luke, Jesus describes his message of the reign of God, the gospel, as “fire.” “I have come to throw fire on the earth and how much I desire to see it burning.”(Lk 12:49) As his disciples, our challenge is to be fired up by the gospel that we proclaim it together, as one whole Dominican Family. It is the work of the Holy to set us on fire and to work as one body of Christ. Our role, as brothers and sisters is to recognize and tap the gifts of each one and unite together all our gifts in the service of mission of proclaiming the gospel.