is defined as the “act of working together with someone or doing what they ask you” (Cambridge Dictionary). According to the Cambridge Business Dictionary, it can also mean “the process of working with another company, organization, or country in order to achieve something” or “the fact of being willing to be helpful and to do what someone asks you to do”.
Interesting, how one word can mean two completely different things: “the act of working together with someone” and at the same time, simply “doing what they ask you to do”. Doing what someone asks you to do is doing a favour. It does not imply nor necessarily presuppose that you were involved in the process before you were asked to do something. You could therefore be asked to do a small part belonging to a bigger picture, that you were not involved in and that you even do not know. You can even “do what someone asks you to do” without necessarily wanting to be helpful – simply because for example you feel obliged, or even forced – which then for me would even be the opposite of cooperation.
Working together with someone else “in order to achieve something” suggests that you have a common goal, which you maybe even stipulated together. Often we join with others to achieve a common goal, so the agreement on the goal is condition to cooperation in that sense – whilst if you ask someone for a favour in the process, it does not necessarily require you to share with that person your (common) goal.
It might be worth it to reflect on our cooperation processes from time to time: At work, with friends, when doing voluntary work – we often work together with others, and call it “cooperation”, but when we reflect on it, we might note that we often believe we are cooperating and then it turns out that in fact we are not striving towards a common goal (anymore). Because somehow emotions, vanities, ambitions – our egoes – became more important along the way? Because we did not agree beforehand on a common goal, because we assumed, but we did not check if our assumption was correct, or because the goal changed during the process, and we did neither recognize nor communicate it with others? This leads to frustration. We feel left alone. Run out on. The working process gets stuck, slowed down. The group might even break up, the goal might never be achieved.
On the other hand – if we all integrate reflection into our working processes (and especially self-reflection into our daily lives!) if we ensure (thereby) that we are truly working towards a common goal, if we openly communicate about our feelings, changes of heart, about our ideas, about our doubts, set-backs – because we know that the others won’t judge – if we allow ourselves that goals and especially our chosen path towards them can change, we might experience something beyond cooperation – true, enriching, supportive community.