Merry Cooperative Christmas!

December 25, 2013 § 22 Comments

I wish you a merry Christmas! That’s what atheists do. We’re merry that way.

The second part of that greeting, you know, wishing you much success in the new year? I was going to wish you that, but now I’m not. Instead I wish you much cooperation. Whether you succeed at anything or not next year, and whether or not Santa brings you what you want, 2014 will be a beautiful year for you if you only cooperate.

I came to this realization at the late age of 49. I’d driven down to Carlsbad on a Friday afternoon to judge at a high school debate tournament. Taken the day off, filled up the car, you know, doing my duty to occasionally participate in one of my kid’s school events, when “Brinnnnnng!” my cell phone rang. It was some kid from the tournament. “Hi, Mr. Davidson.”


“We don’t need you today.”

“Who is this?”

“Billy, from the debate tournament.”

“Well, thanks for letting me know.”

“Yes, sir. Now you can enjoy your day.”

It was really thoughtful of young Billy, letting me know that I was superfluous just as I pulled into the school parking lot after making the two-hour drive from Los Angeles. Then my phone rang again. “Brinnnnnng!”


“Hey, it’s Michael. What are you doing?”

“Just hanging out in North County San Diego.”

“Have you started drinking yet?”

“Not yet.”

“Swing by the office at three. We’re having Friday happy hour.”

The spirit of Christmas

I got to the SPY corporate headquarters and was ushered in. A keg of Lost Abbey ale had been tapped, and the staff was slowly filtering into the warehouse, where chairs had been set up in front of a screen. Everyone was relaxed and happy, and who wouldn’t be on a lovely Friday afternoon with work ending a couple of hours early, punctuated by beer and a movie?

Michael gave a brief talk. Well, brief for him. He talked about competition versus cooperation. It struck me as strange that a company whose existence is predicated on successful competition would be limning the contrast of survival of the fittest with survival of the most cooperative. Then the video began.

Are humans innately competitors, or are they cooperators? Are we alpha organisms who dominate and lead a herd, or are we cooperative creatures ruled by the desire to share and the desire to help each other reach a common goal?

The video was striking in the way it made its case. Some of the points were derived from pseudo-scientific flummery, but many were core truths: Society depends on cooperation. We feel best when we do things in tandem with others. Lonely achievements are empty. Our mirror reflex, or our human instinct to recoil at the pain of others and to smile at the happiness of strangers, is an innate expression of our desire to do good things together. This was Michael’s message about the the approach of his company, and a broader suggestion about the approach of life as well.

If you believe that competition is where it’s at, and that you’ve only succeeded when you’ve reached the pinnacle, crushed your rivals, and amassed the biggest amount of the pie for yourself, this video won’t change your mind. But if you’re gliding into the holiday season like most of us, vaguely aware that more presents don’t equal happiness, conscious that winning isn’t the key to satisfaction, and alert to the chord in your soul that resonates when you hear of good deeds, then this message of cooperation versus competition is the right one at the right time of year.

The cooperative bicyclist

Bicyclists are an extremely cooperative bunch, even when they’re doping at 60+ masters races, crashing their enemies into the curb, and bunny-hopping two-by-fours rather than calling them out for the poor guy behind who hits it at full speed. Riding in any kind of group requires cooperation on so many levels. Despite the log head who refuses to call shit out, most of us do. Taking turns at the front, riding steadily enough so that the person behind you and the people beside you can predict your path, even the simple act of agreeing on a start time and a route are all fundamentally cooperative acts that make the group ride or the bike race possible.

The essence of cooperation is distinct from giving or charity, where you part with something you’d rather keep simply in order to help someone else. Cooperation means parting with something you’d rather keep so that other people will part with something they’d rather keep so that you as a group can get something that none of you can achieve by yourselves. Even the hyper-competitive moment when some wanker dusts you in the sprunt quickly dissolves into a loosely formed, panting group, with kudos and back slaps and the occasional curse about “Why’d you chase me down, you fucker?”

I see a lot of bloody-fanged competition in bicycling, but I see a lot more cooperation. The microcosm of racing is dwarfed by the fred rides of friends and strangers rolling up and down the coast, sometimes in masses, sometimes in twos and threes. People sharing the work, and being there for the other fred when he flats, crashes, gets taken out by a car, or needs to stop and have another frozen pizza, are the ways that we build something a lot more real and a lot more human than spots on a Strava leaderboard.

As an atheist I’m pretty sure that St. Nick doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether you were naughty or nice. But whether or not you’re a believer or an infidel, a merry cooperative Christmas will do more to fill your stocking than all the sales at Wal-Mart and Target put together. Cheers!

§ 22 Responses to Merry Cooperative Christmas!

  • TJ says:

    Interesting post Seth. Never thought of group rides as anything but…well, group rides. Someone posts a training ride and 30 people show up and there you go. If one thinks about it , it is more like someone posts a training ride and 29 others cooperate eh? Someone puts off yard work they had planned, someone will go to grocery later on in the day, someone will finish that report for work tomorrow……will have to take a moment and that everyone next ride for cooperating before they rip my legs off

  • Jah Slim says:

    Thank you WM. Dog bless.

  • Toronto says:

    Well said. Gonna go practice some cooperation right now on the bike with my daughter. Love you, bro. p.s. Happy Birthday.

  • ipdamages says:

    Happy bday to you, amigo. As I was riding home yesterday in order to make the family get together and I saw you headed the other way, I thought that I’d really rather turn around and ride with you. Any speed, any route. Just ride. And be with good people. Like you. But I had to get home so I continued. And as I turned onto Paseo de la Playa, Bull was there fixing a flat. So I stopped and we chatted. When we got to Redondo he had a massive pinch flat blowout so we stopped and I patched his tube and gave him my CO2 cartridge and we nursed home together with him riding a blown out sidewall. And good times were had as we talked about holding a line, taking good pulls, our 28 years of friendship, fitting cycling and work and family and life into a 24-hour day, the joy of having your daughter ask you to go surfing, ridiculous red light tickets, and joyous activities ahead with loved ones. It was righteous cooperation in the Seth style.

  • spinner says:

    Cooperation, a story. Have any cycling buddies who have never “placed” in a race? I had such a friend. We both started racing in 1971 and he has stayed steadily at it: 15-20+ races a year. Anyway, I was having a winning streak one year (199?) and I told him I was going solo at 25 miles in Saturdays’s 100k road race. Saturday arrives and I’m feeling good. Well, very good. My friend is there and I notice he has his TT wheels and skin suit. “Are you really going at 25 miles” he asks. “Yes”, I reply, “and I want you right on my wheel”. “I don’t think I can do it, man” he says. “Just be there” is my reply. Race rolls out, 25 miles goes by and I attack. He’s right on my wheel. I can hear his breathing and I know he’s at the limit. I back off just enough so he can stay on. Remember, he has NEVER been in the top ten of any race in his life. We get to 5 miles to go and he says “I can’t sprint you as you have done all the work”. “Sprint or I will run your ass into the curb” is my reply. It’s interesting how hard work affects the brain. I could only think about how much time, effort, heart-and-soul, if you will, that my friend has put into cycling. I had decided at about mile 51 that he should win. So we get to the sprint, I am leading it out and I can see that he can’t come around without my cooperation. I ever so slightly back off and there’s his front wheel about three inches ahead of mine as we hit the line.

  • JPrumm says:

    Wow, that was a good morning Christmas present. How about you send that to our political leaders. No matter your beliefs religious/political I think that’s what our founding fathers had in mind. Merry Christmas to you.

  • DPCandND...FBBC says:

    Happy Bday mfer, …..I am not sure abut this losing weight and getting in shape bullshit…I am grumpy most of the time and hungry, too as..thanks a lot, you skinny little …..

    • fsethd says:

      Lose weight = bad.

      Eggnog = good.

      See you soon, and thanks for having made 2013 an even better year.

  • “Lonely achievements are empty.”… Kinda reminds me of the kid who falls down and skins his knee, begins to cry, but there’s no one around…so he stops crying, walks into the next room, finds someone, and hits the waterworks again.

  • ArkTrav says:

    Sounds a lot like my favorite doc of all time:
    Truer words never spoken, my brother. Thank you for your cooperation.

  • Russ says:

    Yet another quality post – thanks for this and so many others over the last year. All the best for 2014.

  • JEFF says:

    There you go being undogly and dare I say, unamericanist.

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