Competitiveness isn’t a social construct; it’s a vital animal instinct, and an indispensably vital one at that. Truth, right?
When I used to compete regularly in Karate competitions, I found it extremely difficult to focus. In class I was accomplished at sparring, I had no problem beating up on my friends, people I knew and felt comfortable with. Put in the pressurised arena of a competition however, I would usually end up giggling at my opponent’s serious face; or try and start a conversation before or even during the match.
When I was a kid, I never excelled at Soccer or Rugby because I was never that bothered about winning. If winning meant that someone else would loose, and it seemed to mean more to them, I would rather they won and didn’t feel bad.
I was rather better at swimming, and recently I realised that swimming is less directly competitive. When you are belting down a lane doing front crawl, you are concentrating on putting everything into your stroke, your pattern of breathing, your form and the speed with which you can swim and you can’t even see those competing against you.
Now as an adult in business, the same ethic has translated to a co-operative attitude. As the boss I expect everyone to pull their weight, but everyone shares in the profit. People don’t so much work for me as with me.
I have also found the total disregard of others required for successful competition impossible to fathom, like some kind of suspension of reality, it seems false and so; hypocritical and short sighted. In business I have witnessed companies lose all their staff, or key members. The company displays no loyalty to, or regard for them, why should they for the company? You see people shrugging their shoulders and espousing the eternal wisdom of “business is business!” a mantra which allows one to treat competitors without a shred of decency.
Do we all see competition as healthy? Promote it in our children? I have noticed in my 10 year old son’s football team, the coach is willing to overlook bad behaviour and excuse violence and bad/ abusive language as “going for it”; competitive aggression, something to be admired.
Is this sort of attitude one you want to foster in young people? What is aggression as it relates to success? If you are competitive- in that competitive arena, how do you consider your opponent? Less than you? Someone who needs to be punished? Someone you hate? An obstacle you have to overcome?
Does being competitive mean that you somehow de-humanise your opponent? Is this true of all competition?
I’ve done a lot of outdoor sports and I’ve noticed an attempt to introduce “competition” over the last decade or so. Mostly on the part of sponsors and broadcasters trying to appeal to a wider “market” - a market made up of people who just don’t get doing something for the pleasure of doing it.
Everyone competes to some extent. Is it hard-wired into our systems so that we can survive when resources are limited? Perhaps.
An extremely important part of martial arts (and any sport IMO) is learning to put competitiveness into perspective. Some folks are very aggressive, let their egos take control before/during/after the fight (and there goes the John McEnroe temper tantrum). Others don’t seem aggressive, don’t preen or posture, and whether they win or lose not much attention is paid to them.
A century ago, putting competitiveness into perspective was considered critical to proper development of the man. Preening and posturing was looked down upon. Team sports were added to school curricula specifically to develop the positive benefits of competition and to downplay coarser elements.
Today, thanks to the money around pro sports and all the marketing hoopla surrounding it, people have developed a totally wrong idea of what competition is about – not just athletic but in business & life arenas, too. IMO the promotion of the *individual *in historically *team *sports is killing off sports in general. Why should a kid play basketball if he has no chance of becoming a pro? Waste of time, right?
Plus, sitting in front of a video game will develop competitive instincts, right? Of course – not many people consider that video games totally fail to help kids develop interpersonal skills.
Received wisdom states that in the wild, competition is natural selection. Competition is good. We would have never gotten to the place we are without it and if we lose it, the human race could find itself in a very, very bad place; someday when we don’t the have comfort and safety of technology and industry.
However, did you know that competition is only at best 50% of natural selection?
Co-operation plays a huge and vital role. If it didn’t, babies would be killed off immediately for a start… The human race is in big trouble without the comfort and safety of technology and industry - sooner rather than later if they don’t stop competing to see who can squander most resources. If you study tribes living at a subsistence level you will see co-operation far in excess of the competition you see in industrial societies.
For the vast majority of recorded history cooperation with the group and submission to its leaders has been a far better survival strategy than competitive behaviour. Pick any period and take a look at what happens to those who offend leaders or are considered “different”. Some try to argue the importance of competition in providing group leaders but there again becoming a leader has often been the result of a totally non-competitive process or led to achieving prime target status, which isn’t a great survival strategy.
Outside recorded history hunter gatherers do compete with each other violently but they also co-operate extensively - more than they compete - and competition outside certain very limited (if violent) bounds results swiftly in death - not a great survival trait.
We keep reading about “civilisation” and how without its amenities humanity will somehow enter a violently competitive state. I’d like to see some detailed explanation of how people can be so sure. Even non human primates (who you can’t call civilised) co-operate more than they compete, and compete only in certain controlled ways. Even in primate “society” competition is carefully restricted and managed by ritual “challenges” and the victor is often allowed to preen himself on his competitive instinct while less competitive members of the pack take advantage of his supposed privileges.
So what do you think? Can we say that competition is in reality, subservient to co-operation? That co-operation and not competition is the ethos we should be espousing? Think about it competition has been vaunted over cooperation to the detriment of real society. People watch “Conan” movies and think that’s how it really was back in ye olde Sumerian days. The Neitzchian superman standing alone while co-operative weaklings cowered.
The idea of competition as superior to co-operation is as flawed as the modern idea of the “alpha” human being superior to other personalities. No community, no matter its size or level of technology, can survive without co-operation of the majority of its members.
The latest movie to hold up the ideal of the individual competitor is “300.” Like Conan, the Spartans are held up as the ultimate warriors. What the movie didn’t cover was how the regard in which Spartan citizens held themselves ultimately led to their end. Only those who could trace their lineage to Sparta’s founders could be part of the ruling warrior class; all others were basically servants who propped up the Spartan lifestyle; within a couple centuries of the Battle of Thermopylae so few actual Spartans were left that they could no longer adequately defend their borders and Sparta was, no more.
The average human is part of that supposedly weaker, cooperative class, and extraordinary measures must be taken to turn him/her into a glass-chewing competitor or fearless warrior. And while such an individualistic competitor is often rewarded with songs and the best resources (and best women), the reason that individual is so treated is not because he is so awesome but because the community relies upon his particular talent to ensure the group’s survival. A community of pure competitors, as the Spartans demonstrated, will not endure.