Friday, May 3, 2013

Is Life a Competition?

Today is Friday, May 3, 2013.  

Competition occurs in all areas of life.  Wars are competitions for territory, resources and power.  There is fierce competition for jobs nowadays, and once you are hired, there is competition for recognition, rewards, promotions, status, and prestige.  The dating scene in general seems like a competition to find a mate.   Politics is a competition for leadership and power.  Sports is full of competition; if it weren't, there would be no point in holding the Olympic Games.  These days, there are a lot of competitions on TV, including beauty pageants, talent competitions, and contests to see who will win a date with a desirable other or who can survive in a hostile environment.  Even buying a house can be a kind of competition, because your bid has to compete with the bids of other interested buyers.  In the retail business, competition is seen as healthy, and merchants seem to enjoy the challenge of competing for customers' business.

Competition starts in childhood.  Kids seem to seek competition spontaneously with their peers.  There is a huge debate in education about competition versus cooperative learning, but I think when all is said and done, there's room for both.  Competition in school prepares kids for the types of competition they will be faced with in life. 

The definition of competition is a situation where at least two parties strive for a goal that cannot be shared.  It's a win-lose mentality.  If I win, then you cannot win, and in spite of all the fine words about the importance of giving one's best effort being more important than winning, it sill hurts to lose, or even to come in second place.  

Everyone seems to agree that competition is best when it is "fair," meaning that no one party has a special advantage over others.  Generally speaking, this means that rules must be in place.  Sometimes the nature of the competition is so fierce that the competitors try to see how many of the rules they can break without being caught.  This leads to athletes using steroids and investors engaging in insider trading.

Here are a few quotes about competition, with my comments. 

In America, we believe that competition strengthens us.  –Sarah Palin

I can't stand Sarah Palin, but she's right; this is essentially what we believe, as a nation.  The number of people who are interested in sports and the insane amounts of money that we play professional athletes attests to that.  Even though we spend a lot of time arguing with each other every election year, our two-party system of politics is also seen as a sign of strength in our country.  Now, if we could only get the two sides to cooperate between elections, we would have far fewer headaches and stomach ulcers. 

And while the law of competition may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.  –≠Andrew Carnegie

I'm not so sure about this.  It may be true that "survival of the fittest" works in the animal kingdom, but it doesn't really seem to be working for human beings.  Sure, competition gives us the motivation to improve or to do our best, but it also a divisive mechanism that separates the winners from everybody else.  Those of us who never win start to think we're not worthy, and that mindset leads to poor behavior choices.  Besides, who decides who "the fittest" are?  Would you rather be marooned on a desert island with the richest man on earth, the gold medalist in men's or women's Olympic ice skating, or the winner of a beauty pageant?  Each of them may have been "the fittest" in their area of competition, but that doesn't mean they could survive on a desert island.   And what if there were a cataclysm that ravaged the earth and destroyed most of the people and structures on the planet.  It's true that a few hardy Souls would survive, but would they have the knowledge and skills to rebuild our civilization from scratch?  Probably not.

Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.  –Franklin D. Roosevelt

I tend to agree with this view.  Competition can be fun, and it does provide impetus for improvement, but I think we all need to learn a lot more about cooperation.  Now that the Internet has provided us with a means to connect with a wide variety of people on an individual basis, it is getting easier to learn about those who are different from us and to avoid group stereotyping.  It's also easier to find other people with whom we share similar goals and values. Now, more than ever before, it is imperative that human beings learn to work with one another to avoid polluting the planet beyond the point at which the damage can still be repaired.  It's important to work together to find clean energy sources that will drive further development of technology without harming the balance of nature.  It's necessary to work together to solve social problems and help each other through natural catastrophes.

The healthiest competition occurs when average people win by putting above average effort.  –Colin Powell

This seems true, but I would submit that it's very hard to arrange a competition in such a way that everyone will put forth "above average" effort.  I'm not even sure what "average" effort really is.  It may be one of those things we can't adequately define but we can all agree when we see examples of it.   It's true that when we can appreciate our own efforts without worrying about others, competition can be good for us. 

Competition is such a virtue, and everybody's so busy competing, they have no time for compassion.  –Major Owens

It's true that competition sometimes causes us to step on others' toes or leave others in the dust.  Maybe that's why we tend to celebrate athletes who stop to help a fallen competitor the way a high school runner did recently.  That's why news of a school in Iowa where the kids voted a girl with Down Syndrome to be their Prom Queen spread through the Internet like wildfire.  That's why we were heartened to see that some of the competitors who had hoped to compete in the New York Marathon last November spent time helping out victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The problem with competition is that it takes away the requirement to set your own path, to invent your own method, to find a new way.  –Seth Godin

This is also true, because when we compete with others, there is a shared value system, and everyone is judged by the same set of criteria.  I think it's a good thing to encourage young people to set their own path if they can.  When we do set our own path, it can sometimes be hard to judge for ourselves how we are progressing, because there is no handy set of markers in place by which to measure our efforts.  Ultimately, though, as Soul, we are all here in the physical plane for the purpose of learning and growth, the goal in general being continuous improvement, since nobody is perfect.   We must teach our kids to monitor and assess their own efforts honestly, because there are important areas in life where we are really only competing against ourselves.

If you have ever noticed, it doesn’t matter how many people are on your side, cheering you on. If you can’t get on your own side, you never get past “go”.  –Sonya Derian

One of the rewards of competition is recognition of our efforts and the applause of the crowd, but ultimately, Derian is right.  We all need to learn to support, recognize and appreciate ourselves.   

The world will always contain people who are more successful, and those who are less successful, than you and me. All of that is completely irrelevant to our lives. Other people are not our standard. Your journey is different from mine, and our journeys are different from that of any other person.  –Joy Chen
 The key sentence in this quote is: Other people are not our standard. Why should they be?  We are all unique.  The fact that another person can run faster than I doesn't make me a loser.   If someone else is a better cook than I am, that doesn't mean I am a bad cook.  You might be good at math, while I excel at expressing myself with the written word.   Why should I be good at math?  Why should you be good at writing?  When we stop comparing ourselves with others, we also stop giving others the power to judge us.  We also begin to realize that everyone can win at something.  There doesn't have to be only one winner.  We can even help each other win.  :-) 

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