Go Far Together
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
This wise and often quoted proverb remains timely as we enter our seventh month of various pandemic restrictions. It is even more reinforced from findings by researcher and author Shawn Achor, reported in his newest work, “Big Potential“. He begins with a delightful story of American biologist Hugh Smith who was traveling next to a mangrove forest deep in the jungle of southeast Asia along a river in 1935. Suddenly, in the humid night, the top of one of the trees glowed brightly and then went dark again. And again the same pattern in three seconds. Even more defying than one tree glowing and going dark was all the trees along the riverbank doing it in unison, lighting up the sky. Upon returning home, Dr. Smith recorded his findings of the synchronous lightning bugs. His discovery was ridiculed by other academics. Why would fireflies light at the same time? And how could order come from chaos without a leader to direct it?
Modern science provided the answer over time. It serves an evolutionary purpose for fireflies to light together. You see, when lightning bugs light up at random times, the likelihood of a female responding to a male is 3%. However, when bugs light up together, the likelihood of females responding is 82%! When fireflies time their responses with one another, they dramatically increase opportunities. Even more surprising is the fact that when fireflies sync up where they can be seen, it can stretch for miles. In other words, the brighter they shine, the more newcomers join in, and add their light.
The story reflects Achor’s newest finding: when we help others become better, we increase our opportunities, too. We often overestimate individual contributions when success is often interconnected with that of others. We benefit from the ecosystem around us. Maybe Emerson said it best for me when he noted that it is difficult to hand someone a bouquet of flowers and not retain some of the fragrance for yourself. Put still another way, author Tom Rath might ask, “What are you doing to contribute to the lives of others?” This pandemic has provided countless examples of our connectedness to each other.
I’ll start with a simple proposition on my part as a teacher in the GVS and OU ecosystem. I never volunteered or wanted to teach on-line classes but the pandemic forced me to. My learning has started again. And it’s been a graduate student who has assisted my technology learning that has now made me a slow convert to remote teaching. I have enhanced my pedagogy by using breakout rooms, furthered explanations with white boards, and have found you can still build relationships across space. She has made me, in firefly parlance, brighter. Still other professors have shared their successful teaching ideas with me making us all brighter. Who hasn’t grown from others in some way during this pandemic? It’s this type of collaboration and learning together that can make us all shine better.
Let’s hope scientists working on vaccines are doing the same thing.