Monday, March 29, 2010
I began framing the idea of coliberation when I was playing a game of ping pong with my friend Bill. So you can understand why the ping pong - Passover connection might not have been immediately apparent to me.
Bill was so much better of a player than I that there was actually no reason for us to even try to play a "real" game. Playing for points was clearly pointless. So we decided instead just to see how long we could keep the ball from falling off the table. It was a perfect challenge for each of us. For Bill, just getting the ball to hit my paddle was an exercise worthy of his years of "pongish" mastery. And for me, it felt like I was really playing something very much like ping pong with something very similar to actual competence. After half the night of this, we managed to sustain an almost infinite volley, hitting the ball back and forth that we actually lost count. I remember how the ball seemed to get brighter, to take on its own life; how our playing seemed to take on an intimacy, an encompassing wholeness. ? ?Something happened to us during that game. There was some kind of shared transcendence that made us each feel just about as big, ME-wise and WE-wise, as we could get. Larger than life. Enlarged by each other's largesse. Beyond time.
Let me draw you a picture.
On one axis we have ME. On the other axis, WE.
The higher or farther out we go on each axis, the more fun it becomes to be a ME or WE. The closer in, the less.
When the WE and ME are in balance, there is what you might call an experience of "mutual empowerment," what I call "coliberation." This is indicated by a channel, diagonally equidistant between ME and WE. Here the fun things happen. And here, when we're really playing and really together, when collaboration is at its best, so are we. ? ?
I like the word - "coliberation." It's cute, because it almost sounds like something beyond "collaboration." But "liberation" is only part of the truth. It's about freeing each other from whatever constraints we usually impose on each other, and ourselves.
The experience of coliberation becomes more powerful as each participant becomes more thoroughly engaged, more wholly involved, and as the group itself becomes more unified, more totally involved. Given the wholeness of the self and the group, we approach something beyond collaboration, beyond the game itself. Some coincidence of selves that undefines the limits of our capabilities. A coincidence having almost nothing to do with the game, and everything to do with the human spirit - shared moments of unusual clarity, vivid communication, spontaneous combustions of understanding.
And should we lose our way, should we forget that we are playing for the fun of playing together, we find ourselves, on one side, feeling alienated from each other, superior or inferior, not just in connection to the game, but in connection to everything. Or we feel alienated from ourselves, as if the game was the only thing that made life worth living, that made us worth being whoever we were being.?
?And then there's Passover, reminding us of when we 1) finally freed ourselves of slavery, and 2) we were free together, in our own community, under our own and only G-d.
So it seems to me, like it probably seemed to you, Israel, that the idea of coliberation is maybe a useful depiction of what Passover is all about - not just about our managing to free ourselves from slavery, but more about our being able to free each other.
(Look for this article in my column in the coming issue of the National Jewish Post and Opinion.)
from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith