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Midway through a long-distance trail running event, I joined a group of four other runners for a few minutes. At that point I was moving faster, but they seemed to be having more fun.
As we compared the difference between running alone or as a group, one of them offered an African proverb: “If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together.”
That idea seems to apply not only to a day’s sporting event, but also to our travels through life itself. Beyond the notion of safety in numbers, a group can offer elements of mutual support, encouragement, and social cohesiveness. That dynamic underscores the distinction between quantity and quality of life — or even a single event within it.
After all, do we want to go through life quickly or reach new places?
Whether training, traveling, or working, doing it alone has both advantages and limitations. The chief advantages — controlling one’s own time and not having to adjust to other people — go along with the limitations of needing to be entirely self-motivated and missing the synergy from others’ efforts. In brief, we can summarize the difference between doing it alone or with others as independence vs. interdependence.
We humans are social animals, not pack animals. Even though we seem to go about much of our daily living by ourselves, we’re usually physically in close proximity to others, relying on them for our well-being. Ultimately, we are interdependent, even when we think we are acting alone. There will always be some situations where independent action is suitable, even preferable — but navigating between solitary and collective action requires maturity and a willingness to cooperate, even as gaining self-reliance becomes part of personal growth.
Abdu’l-Baha encouraged working in groups, as reflected in passages such as this from one of his letters: “Verily, God loveth those who are working in His path in groups, for they are a solid foundation. … in groups, united and bound together, supporting one another.”
The ingredients for any successful business, community, or project remind us that no one person can do it all, but we can reach our goals through working together with unity of vision.
Traveling alone can be an immensely rewarding experience. When I’ve done so, I have found my own wit and resources stretched and strengthened. With no one to slow me down, no one to plan around, no one to distract me with their own needs or preferences, I’ve readily moved from destination to destination.
Other times, traveling with others has taken me places I may not have otherwise gone. My companions’ curiosity or prior knowledge introduced me to valuable experiences I would have otherwise missed. Sometimes we even saved each other from foolish or costly errors. Perhaps the best part involved having another person to share the day. This added richness to the travel, especially as we relived our adventures over supper in the evening.
But back to the trail running event: my own training experience had been long and difficult, even as I noted my own progress and determination. In contrast, the group’s experience had been more lighthearted. They had cooperated on a training strategy, helped each other through injuries, and celebrated their progress. At the end of the race, our finishing times were close to each other. So it’s difficult to say who won or lost the race that day.
… harmony and interdependence characterize the kingdoms of phenomenal life … The elements and lower organisms are synchronized in the great plan of life. Shall man, infinitely above them in degree, be antagonistic and a destroyer of that perfection? God forbid such a condition!