This subject has created some healthy debate, as I expected it would. Writing as one who has never been competitive, or seen the need for competition other than for purely recreational use – I enjoyed the occasional game of soccer as a lad, and raced sailing dinghies at my local yacht club – but never felt the ‘competitive edge’ to win, win, win……pushed as a vital factor for success, especially in the USA where it has been honed to a fine artform.
The problem with competition: it creates only one winner, but many losers. It is, in that sense, self-defeating as a social tool. Jo, in an excellent essay (see her comment to the previous post) writes of the demise of Sports Day in British schools and mourns the passing.
What purpose does it serve? As a day of fun? Never, as I remember. As a means of physical exercise? There are plenty of other ways to activate kids physically. To teach them ‘someone has to lose the race’? I think they learn that from a very young age without the need to be ostracized for lack of physical prowess.
The desire or need to compete is, I believe, an instinctive remnant from our reptilian brain. Compete to survive – for food, for mates – survival of the fittest. Our reptilian brain is tiny compared to the mass that has evolved around it, yet for much of our social interaction we turn more and more inwards to our basic instincts for survival. The human race still competes for food, leaving the weakest hungry and the most powerful fat-bellied. TV programs entertain by fostering hero worship of individuals prepared to play the dirtiest games to reach the top job or the most powerful position, scattering weaker mortals to the winds in the process.
Is this the way we wish to continue living? It’s unlikely to work for us much longer. Corporate competition between nations is causing such a lack of government action to avert global catastrophe, it is only a matter of time before the planet teaches us a severe lesson in how bad competition really is for the human soul.
Why do we need to be the best; the greatest; the most powerful? Would an individual’s life in America be worse if the US was just another nation among a similar group of nations, working and cooperating with each other to provide the best for everyone. I doubt it. In fact, I believe the quality of life would be much, much better for everyone.
Yes, I know that to some degree I’m preaching idealism, but if we are ever to evolve beyond our present status as self-opinionated apes with a technological bent, we have to define and begin to eliminate the fundamental, inherent instincts of our ancestors that are holding us back. I believe the distorted, competitive, survival instincts we nurture to weave our way through the social structures we’ve created, have a hugely negative effect on those structures, causing them to constantly tear and fall apart.
War is the ultimate example. War is no more than a competition of brute strength, yet it totally destroys whole sections of our societal fabric, both physically and psychologically.
To what end? So the victor can strut about like a farmyard cock, and see the loser humiliated and broken.
The very act of proving oneself better than another, by inference implies the inferiority of the loser. When this occurs on a national scale the trend is to view other nations as inferior. This was the case with Adolf Hitler’s Germany pre-WW2, and has shown itself to be a factor in the invasion of Iraq. The atrocities of Abu Ghraib and the more recent killing of innocent Iraqis by Blackwater employees are just two of many obvious examples.
Children in the US today are taught that being a ‘good’ American means being a winner. Good sportmanship; the pleasure of playing the game for its own sake, is well down the list of priorities. More and more American athletes are using drugs to enhance their performances. So many in fact, that even when the least likely, like Marion Jones, admit to such indiscretions, no-one is really shocked anymore.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m not advocating the banning of all competitive games. Competition, properly harnessed, can be fun and have positive attributes, but when all that matters is winning, the fun vaporizes and the longterm effects can be disastrous.
In most areas of our lives cooperation, rather than competition, between communities and nations at all levels would produce a better world for every one of us.
So I’ll stick with my bumper sticker:
“Cooperation’s Cool, Competition’s for Clods.”
Unless, of course, you can persuade me otherwise.
Filed under: Better ways