The Importance of Collaboration

In the past, group work or projects have always been stressful and greatly dreaded for me. I have a hard time with any social interaction of this kind, and group assignments or collaborations have always made me very anxious. Much of the time in the past I would end up having to do lots of the work, which would not be fair to me or my peers. When first hearing about the collaborative essays for this class, I was very apprehensive and nervous about how they would go. Although I know that I am capable of collaborating with my peers, I have never been the best at it and had never done something like this specific group work before. During these collaborations, I often had the fear that I was not contributing enough to both the writing and the conversations, leaving most of the work to the other group members. I was nervous going into the collaborations, but after doing them I felt more confident in both my abilities as a writer and as a peer to my group members. I think that both reading Morrison’s work and collaborating in this class have taught me a lot about the ins and outs of working collaboratively with others.   

Beloved, Jazz and Paradise all show different yet similar versions of the both/and of collaboration. In each novel, there are characters who do something “bad” because they see it as morally justified, or the “right” thing to do. The reason behind each of these actions is very different, yet the reactions of those around them are somewhat similar. For many people, there is no justifiable reason behind taking someone else’s life, yet these characters all feel that they did the right thing, the necessary thing. Even if they feel guilty about it, they still think that they did what they needed to do. In Beloved, Sethe killed her baby in order to free it from the awful life she knew would have been ahead of it, and she does not feel any shame or guilt for her actions despite those around her thinking she should. In Jazz, Joe killed Dorcas because of how much he “loves” her, and although he feels guilty about his actions, he never expresses that he regrets them. In Paradise, the men of Ruby attack and kill the women from the Convent because of their perceived notion of justice, and while some of them seem to feel guilty, many of them just go on about their lives as if nothing happened. They all feel the good and the bad of their actions all at once. Sethe and Joe both loved so deeply that the only answer they saw was to kill said loved one. The men of Ruby loved their town and community so much that they felt attacking the Convent was the only answer. Yes, their reasons were still completely different, but the basis of it all was love, and how love being such a strong emotion can be both good and bad. 

With these examples, it seems as if Morrison is also trying to get into a deeper collaboration, the one between our head and our heart. Sometimes we act with our heart, and we end up doing something “bad” or something that we end up regretting. Many of these characters acted in the heat of the moment, not fully thinking about what they were going to do and what it would mean in the future. While many of them do not regret what they did, it does not mean that they possibly would not have done it if they were thinking with a clearer head. Our heart and our head are always working together, but sometimes one gets lost or overshadowed by the other and things get messy. Our emotions can easily cloud our judgment, and Morrison’s trilogy is a cautionary tale of this fact. Acting or thinking with our heart is not inherently a bad thing, however if we do it excessively it can lead to our own downfall. I think that this is all a very important lesson to learn, in every aspect of life. If we act or speak without truly thinking about what we are doing, we could be hurting not only ourselves but also those around us. Many people hurt the ones they love because of spur of the moment decisions, saying something they don’t mean or doing something that they didn’t fully think through. If we can learn to not let our heart act first all of the time, we can try and avoid problems like this in our lives. Learning to collaborate our heads and hearts when making decisions is something that will be important throughout our whole lives. 

There is both good and bad in collaboration, where working together can either be a huge aid or it can be a detriment. There are many times when we feel as if we could just do something on our own it would be better or easier, but there are also times that we are grateful for the help and ideas of others. In this trilogy, Morrison gives us many characters on both sides, some who do well interacting with those around them and some who do not. In Paradise, the basic idea of collaboration is a major theme that the story is essentially based around, and many of the characters are involved in some version of collaboration at some point. The older and younger generations fighting about the phrase on the Oven, most of them unwilling to even hear the other side of the argument. The women of the Convent, though seemingly united from the outside, are often at odds with each other. The original founders of the town, figuring out the rules and customs of their society, collaborating and compromising on what is best for their new little town. With all of these examples from Paradise, Morrison demonstrates both the good and bad things that can result from collaboration. Not everyone who is part of a group actually wants to be there and collaborate, and sometimes there is nothing you can really do to change that. I think that this is something important to remember when collaborating or working with others, as well as to try not to expect too much—or too little—from each other. If we set our expectations very high, we will just end up getting disappointed or frustrated that it was not what we thought it was going to be. If we refuse to listen to one another or to see another perspective, we will never be able to collaborate and we will just end up making things harder for ourselves and others. Refusing to collaborate also inhibits us from growing. If we never even attempt to look at things from someone else’s point of view, we will never be able to grow and change as people, which will greatly hurt us in the long run. Morrison shows us how great collaboration can be if done right, but also how disastrous it can be if not. Collaboration is extremely important, not only in our professional/academic lives but also in our personal ones, and it not going well can be much more important than we think. 

We are able to collaborate with something or someone even if we do not fully like or agree with them. Collaboration does not always mean agreement—it is simply the act of working together, which I think is something that Morrison frequently demonstrates in her writing, as well as in how she essentially collaborated with Dante when writing this trilogy. For example, throughout Paradise, the people of Ruby cannot decide on what to put on the Oven. No one in town can agree, and no one is willing to compromise. By the end of the novel, someone has put a phrase on it different from either that were previously argued, and everyone else in the town seemingly is fine with it. There was no specific collaboration on this phrase, however all of the residents of Ruby essentially collaborated by compromising their previous opinions, agreeing by not arguing or saying that they disagree with the new phrase. There is no definitive conclusion or collaboration, and yet they have still technically collaborated because someone made a decision and everyone else seems fine with it. Not necessarily agreement, but compromise. While this example is not exactly how collaboration should be done in most situations, it still demonstrates an important idea. That compromise is essential to collaboration, but agreement is not. We do not always need to agree on everything that our peers say and do; as long as we are willing to listen and possibly compromise, we can still work together and create something. While it can be important to be headstrong in our opinions and ideas, it is also important to not be so connected to them that we feel we are right about everything, becoming unwilling to compromise. These are skills that I think are very important to learn because working with others is something that we will almost certainly have to do at some point in our lives. While working with other people can be very difficult and stressful at times, these ideas can make it a little easier by helping us understand that it isn’t always about us and what we want or think is right. Sometimes the ability to listen and be open are the best skills to know. I have no idea where I will be in five plus years, what type of job that I will be working, what my life will be like. However, I know that these skills will almost certainly be relevant and important to have in order for me to do the best that I can. 

I have absolutely no clue what the path unfolding before me looks like, where it will lead me to, how my life will turn out. What I do know is that collaboration will be present in almost every aspect of my life, and learning the best ways to go about it is extremely important. With this trilogy, Morrison is trying to show us all of the both/ands of collaboration: the “rights” and “wrongs,” the good and bad, the relationship between logic and emotion, the importance of compromise and of openness. While some may be harder to apply or remember than others, they are all equally important skills that everyone should learn at some point in their lives. The ability to collaborate is one that will be important our entire lives, and Morrison shows us just how essential it is to understand the act of collaborating and to be able to do it well so that we can get the best possible results. 

Thresholds Essay ENGL 431

Something that I have been thinking about during these first few classes is how intertwined our lives and fates can be with one another. The idea that humans are so deeply connected with one another can be terrifying to think about, yet also so fascinating. You never know when meeting someone if they will end up being an important part of your life, whether that ends up being negative or positive. While I have not yet read the entirety of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, this already seems to be a prevalent theme throughout the novel. All of the characters’ lives are so deeply intertwined with each other, some on multiple levels, that both their actions and feelings greatly affect those around them. As the main character, Sethe has the most connections. She has deep and complex relationships with Denver, Beloved and Paul D, as well as many of the other characters in the novel. Despite knowing each character for different lengths of time and having very different types of relationship with them, Sethe still has intense connections with each one of them. 

Being in close proximity to one another causes all four of these characters’ fates to be intimately connected in ways both seen and unseen in the novel. Every decision, whether it is positive or negative, will also end up affecting the other three people who live in the house. A big example from Beloved is when Paul D shows up on their doorstep to see Baby Suggs, and Sethe lets him stay. This action not only impacts Sethe but also greatly affects Denver’s everyday life, as well as Beloved when she shows up a little while later. Almost immediately after being welcomed into their home, Paul D ends up scaring the ghost of Sethe’s dead baby away, something that very much displeases Sethe and Denver. The addition of Paul D into 124 causes immediate disruption of the daily life that Sethe and Denver have come to know. While Sethe does not really seem to have a problem with this in the beginning, Denver clearly does not like having Paul D around. Despite her daughter’s clear discontent, Sethe does not make Paul D leave or do all that much to stop him from treating her a certain way. Paul D being in the house also impacts Beloved’s life, even if Sethe does not really know it. Paul D’s presence at 124 is basically the catalyst for the entire narrative of Beloved because he scares the ghost baby away and causes Beloved to essentially rise from the dead. 

Along with this, I have also been thinking about how these connections with those around us can inform our actions and emotions in many different ways. Sethe wanted to keep her children safe and out of slavery, which led to her killing one of her children. Halle saw his wife get assaulted and did nothing to stop it, causing him to go mad. Denver immediately feels protective of Beloved even though she did not fully know that they were sisters. The people around us can greatly impact who we are and the things we do, even if we do not realize it. This can be both positive and negative, and many of the examples that Morrison gives us lean more towards negative. These connections can also end up causing tensions in relationships. The biggest example of this from Beloved that I can think of is Sethe’s difficult decision to murder her infant daughter in order to protect her from the horrendous life of slavery. This decision, while made with the best of intentions, ends up affecting Sethe’s relationships with almost every other character in the novel, as well as with seemingly everyone she knew. One of the most obvious examples of this is with Paul D, who at first staunchly refuses to believe that Sethe would have the capacity to do something so horrific. When Stamp Paid is trying to tell him about what happened, he just keeps denying what is right in front of him, saying that the woman in the picture cannot be Sethe, refusing to see her for the person who actually is: “‘This ain’t her mouth. I know her mouth and this ain’t it.’ Before Stamp Paid could speak he said it and even while he spoke Paul D said it again. Oh, he heard all the old man was saying, but the more he heard, the stranger the lips in the drawing became” (Morrison 183). When he finally comes to terms with the fact that this is something she did and that she does not seem to be very regretful of it, in fact she is almost proud of her decision, he leaves 124 and essentially abandons Sethe, Denver and Beloved. Paul D is completely unable to understand Sethe and why she does the things she does, and this misunderstanding between the two creates distance that may not ever be filled. I think it is very interesting how there are some people who you can fully understand the actions and feelings of, and then there are others who make no sense to you as people, who you are consistently baffled by. There are many people in my life who I feel that I understand pretty well, and yet there are also many who I do not understand at all and regularly am bewildered by, even if I have known them for a long time. Sometimes there are just people who you will never fully understand. While that is something that can certainly be frustrating, I think it is also really fascinating because there is always more to learn about them and their perspective. Not understanding someone completely can be a new opportunity to listen and try to see the world or a situation in a different way. It is important to keep an open mind, which is something that Paul D definitely does not have when it comes to Sethe. When Paul D looks at Sethe, all he can see is the person who he wants her to be, and the strong woman that she is does not fully fit with that idea. He is not even open to the idea of hearing her reasoning and will not keep in mind that she was put in an impossible situation. 

I am very interested to see how this theme may continue to occur in Morrison’s other works, as well as possibly in Dante or some of the other pieces that we will be reading this semester. This is a theme that I feel is often in many works of art, however it often seems to be overlooked by a lot of people. The basis of it is all about human connection, which is something that has always intrigued and interested me. The ways in which we interact and inform each other’s lives is something so beautiful and interesting that is purely a product of the human condition. Our lives can be extremely intertwined with those around us, yet we can also be completely separate from someone and know nothing about them. Much of the time we do not even know the ways in which we affect other people’s lives, especially with people we do not personally know very well. Even with people we know, sometimes those connections go deeper than we could possibly see. The fact that humans’ lives are so intrinsically weaved together is endlessly fascinating to me, and I always enjoy seeing it represented in different types of media. Individual stories always have a different way of showcasing the complexity of human relationships, and Morrison’s version of this really interests me. I am very excited to see how this theme may be relevant to the stories in Jazz and Paradise, as well as how similar yet different the connections between characters will be to those in Beloved.