In his Fearless Strategies newsletter, career coach Lucian James tells a story of when he was in a sparring session with a fellow martial artist. He describes his own reticence to go too hard during the session for fear of hurting his partner, and his opponent picked up on this. Shortly after, James received a note from his partner calling him out on how he held back, and how such an approach deprived his partner of learning from the session. If James had sparred with full strength and speed, the note reasoned, his partner could have benefitted more. He would have learned how better to block and counter the strikes that James would land. He was deprived of this learning due to James holding back.
This reasoning is used at my own dojo as well. Sparring is in one sense a competition between two people trying to land a hit or kick on one another. However, as satisfying as it may be to do so, it is moreso a time of learning: for every successful strike combination that you land, you are just as able to learn from when you leave yourself open to a successful hit from your opponent. When you spar, you are learning from one another what works best for you and what you need to work on to grow and change.
In Be Water, My Friend, Shannon Lee shares her father Bruce Lee’s philosophy regarding martial arts, moviemaking, family, and life. She observes, “Life is not a competition; it’s a cocreation.” The benefit of a friendly opponent—one who will challenge us and help us grow and who is willing to learn from us as well—is what we can create with one another. We may engage in competition, but the larger point is to create something larger from which we will both benefit.
The concept of being a “co-creator” has theological roots for Christians. When God parades every animal before Adam in Genesis 2, Adam takes part in God’s creative process by naming all of them. God subsequently calls upon figures like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and the people of Israel to create something alongside God that will bless everyone. Humanity is entrusted to co-create with God throughout the Bible. God makes people active partners in what God is bringing into the world.
As we are co-creators with God, so too are we meant to be co-creators with one another. No one of us is meant to do the work alone. Rather, we may be friendly sparring partners, pushing one another to grow into our best selves.
Such opportunities for such growth may include:
- Friends/loved ones honestly sharing and listening to each other about behavior that is harmful to oneself or others
- Aspiring white allies accepting and reflecting on pushback from black activists while working with them for racial justice
- LGBTQ+ folks and cis/hetero allies taking time to truly listen to the myriad experiences of individuals within the community for a richer understanding of how and when to speak for the rights of all
- Ministry leaders graciously receiving the constructive criticism of church members regarding their needs and schedules and whether current initiatives are meeting them
- Likewise, congregations listening to the needs of their leaders and reflecting on how to meet them lovingly as humans rather than as mere employees
- Churches considering how they may be stretched in new directions by the needs of the surrounding community rather than trying to remain isolated among themselves
This is but a small sampling of examples. And the possibilities for a more thriving creation as a result of our willingness to see one another as co-creators rather than competitors who need to protect our own resources or egos are vast. Such a changed vision may lead to growth for ourselves, for our partnerships, and for the wider beloved world that God has given us to tend.