I was being a curmudgeon the other day, talking with someone about how young people today don’t know anything about history, when it occurred to me that until I was 30 or so, the only thing I knew about World War II was what I learned from watching Hogan’s Heroes. A great challenge as we age is to refrain from assuming the worst about younger generations. They’re usually a lot brighter and more capable than we suppose.

I was thinking of Hogan’s Heroes because I heard someone use the word collaborator this past week, and it occurred to me that I had first heard that word on Hogan’s Heroes when Louie LeBeau accused a fellow Frenchmen of being a collaborator with the Nazis. He snarled the word, then began choking the man, so I deduced it wasn’t a term of endearment. Eventually, of course, I realized the word collaboration could also be positive. James Watson and Francis Crick collaborated to discover the double helix structure of DNA in 1953. John Lennon and Paul McCartney collaborated to write the iconic music of the Beatles. Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet collaborated to save our country. Despite these examples in history, the word collaborator still conjures up negative images for us, doesn’t it? How is it that the same word can be both sinister and positive? There is a real ambivalence about that word, which I suspect is due to our ambivalence about its practice.

As important as collaboration is, we are creatures of competition. We vie against one another more quickly and easily than we collaborate. In a culture of competition such as ours, collaboration, cooperation, and compromise will seldom be our first impulse.

We’ve been discussing Quaker qualities, more specifically simplicity as generosity, peace as consistent compassion, integrity as integration, equality as democratic discernment, and today I invite us to consider community as cooperation and collaboration as opposed to competition. I was recently watching a video of George H.W. Bush, the first Bush president, giving his State of the Union address to Congress after the Berlin Wall had fallen in 1989. He announced the United States had won the Cold War and everyone in the chamber, Republicans and Democrats alike, stood and cheered. When I was a teenager my Dad took me to a Notre Dame football game, and when Notre Dame won it was the same kind of cheering, the same kind of elation, like America had just won a football game. Notre Dame went on to win the national championship that year and my father assured me we were witnessing the start of a football dynasty, that Notre Dame would be winning the national championship well into the future, which turned out not to be the case. For those of us who were confident Russia had embraced democracy and would be a partner for peace after the Cold War, well, it turns out we were overly optimistic about that too. The peace dividend, if it ever happened, did not long endure.

It is a curious fact of human nature that our hearts beat faster, our moods soar higher, at the prospect of competition. Bertrand Russell once said that “life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim.” And while I realize most of us don’t want to be criminals, I also suspect most of us have an inordinate fear of losing, of being bested, of someone else getting the upper hand. We have an insatiable, unquenchable appetite for victory, which makes collaboration, cooperation, and compromise especially difficult.

Years ago, when I realized there was more to World War II than I learned in Hogan’s Heroes, I began reading about not only the military cooperation that led to the Allied victory, but also to the political collaboration that made possible the defeat of Hitler’s fascism. I learned of the incredible friendship of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, of their deep and mutual respect, and genuine fondness for one another. In the darkest days of the war, in the waning days of 1941, Germany and Italy were in control of Europe from the English Channel to the Black Sea, Hitler’s army was besieging Leningrad, Japan had swept through the Philippines and British Malaya, forcing Hong Kong’s surrender on Christmas Day.

Churchill sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to meet with Roosevelt at the White House, where they planned their response to fascist tyranny.

It became their habit to meet late into the middle of the night. One evening, excited by an idea, Roosevelt wheeled into Churchill’s room to find him naked, having just taken a bath. Whenever Joan complains about my baths, I mention that Winston Churchill spent 2-3 hours a day in the bathtub through World War II. When you think about it, taking a bath is actually a patriotic duty. So Roosevelt rolled in on a nude Churchill and began apologizing profusely. Roosevelt said, “Think nothing of it. I have nothing to hid from the President of the United States.”

It is this transparency that makes our cooperation and collaboration possible. When our intention is to contend with others, we will always have our secrets, always have one thing or another we keep from one another. But when we collaborate, we open ourselves up, we do not mask our true and real selves. As Friends, to commit ourselves to community is to make honesty and openness a priority. We have nothing to hide. We are not in a contest for supremacy. We are in a partnership for the betterment of the world. This is the Quaker vision for community, whether in our friendships, in our marriages, in our meeting, in our world.

To do good requires many people to be united, valuing cooperation over personal gain.

The British musician Brian Eno was once asked in an interview what he thought about music education in Britain’s school system. He said, “I believe in singing to such an extent that, if I were asked to redesign the British educational system, I would start by insisting that group singing becomes a central part of the daily routine. Group singing builds character and, more than anything else, encourages a taste for cooperation with others.”

In true community, we learn to sing not only with one another, but with our world.