To the Man Who Wants to Be An Island

John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man / is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”




This means we are all part of a community of persons, nested in society. We do not stand alone, like a remote island in the South Pacific seas.

Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe in 1761. Even then, with a man on an island, Defoe wants to show that Crusoe can be the island. He is shipwrecked and survives 28 years on a fruitful island alone. Life the island, he has all the mental and physical resources he needs to survive.

Even when more men arrive, Crusoe still wants to be king.

But that was fiction. No man is an island. We cannot succeed alone. The research bears it out.

If I take my life or your life and put the facts on a stat sheet, we get a very particular picture. Me: White (and a quarter Chinese), Catholic, married, female, mother of four (with experiences in prenatal and infant loss) from a rural middle-class upbringing with two married parents; who has attended public school, out-of-state private college and graduate school with a penchant for reading literature, listening to jazz, sitting outside, horseback riding, and interior decorating.

It is unlikely I will find someone who can check all the same boxes. That is a good thing.

Because if I work only within my worldview and my experiences, I can only really serve those in the same boat. I need to open my ears, hear others’ stories, gather requests, and have a conversation about it. That does mean I act on every suggestion, but it does mean I entertain it.

Some reasons might surprise me if I am willing to be surprised.

But maybe you prefer to go it alone. Perhaps you already have an idea of how it should be done and that your knowledge is sufficient to get it done. It is terrible to be alone and challenged in that position. It threatens your authority and credibility.

If we establish an attitude of collaboration, knowing that others might have resources that we do not have ourselves, if we can act with a little humility, the thing we can accomplish is so much greater than what can be done alone.

An island becomes a mountain range. A cabin becomes a city. A planter box becomes a farm.

“Gestalt” is a psychological term that means “an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.” The mind works this way. Community works this way as well as one large, interconnected organism.

Community partnerships offer exciting possibilities, like how the City of Hughson supports programs like Citizens for a Healthy Community because it understands that volunteers are the lifeblood to a vibrant town.

How do we collaborate?

First, establish your goals. Who are you trying to reach? What service will you perform? Be direct about the style and personality you want for your operation.

Second, assess what you need to know to meet those goals.

What do you need to learn about your population? What learning styles, preferences, personalities, challenges they are facing? Are you plugging into a tradition of those who have gone before you or is a new endeavor, never before seen? If the former, see what has been done before, look at hard data on what has worked and what has not worked. Do not let an ideology blind you to numbers that might disagree. If the latter, get plenty of support for a brave new world of work.

Third, identify people you know with knowledge in this area. Then network, discuss, find resources. Share with them what you know. See what they know. Maybe you have the same ideas but express them differently. Maybe your areas of expertise differ so you can broaden your scope.

Fourth, engage the help of willing volunteers. If you know what you need, you will know what spots you need to fill that you cannot complete yourself.

But all of it takes an honest assessment, a willingness to admit your weaknesses and the truthfulness to acknowledge your strengths. It takes gumption to develop an idea and promote it. It takes humility to collaborate with others. For great successes, we need both.

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