Competition, Thief of Joy

Life for us has become an endless succession of contests. From the moment the alarm clock rings until sleep overtakes us again, from the time we are toddlers until the day we die, we are busy struggling to outdo others. This is our posture at work and at school, on the playing field and back at home. It is the common denominator of American life. Alfie Kohn

The title of this blog almost sounds like a misnomer because the majority of the human race thinks of competition as sports, games, fun, winning a medal or a trophy and as being a winner.  How can competition rob us of the enjoyment and pleasure we feel when it appears to bestow us with a high of being number one.

But, I ask that you think back throughout your life whenever you were involved in anything competitive, how did you feel when someone else won?

I’ve reflected on competition for a long time especially when the biggest and most well-known competition, the Olympics began.  I don’t watch the games but I realized that there are only a handful of “winners” and there are hundreds of people who no one hears about, people who didn’t place or win who worked just as hard as the few on top. People are mesmerized for two weeks with the glamour of the entertainment and energy of the games, but once they’re over, it’s all forgotten as we get on with our lives.  Interestingly, all of the people participating spend most of their lives focused on training and preparing to win and for that one big moment, then it’s over.  The winners stand on the podium and are handed a medal and the world applauds.  There is monetary gain for only a small percentage of the athletes who are given an opportunity for endorsements, the rest are forgotten and go back to their lives. Do we ever hear about or know how those who didn’t win feel or how their life went afterward?

Through my research,  I’ve learned that cooperation not competition is our natural state of being.  We aren’t born hostile with the intention of bringing someone else down, that behavior is handed down from one generation to the next. We unnaturally push ourselves to best someone because we’re taught that being a winner is the best.  But, in truth, competition is filled with selfishness while we hope for the downfall of others, it is filled with anxiety, stress and pressure. Once we start down the road of winning, once is never enough, it almost becomes necessary for our confidence and self-esteem, putting us in a constant state competitive power.

Emerging research shows that competition is deleterious in many ways.

  • With children, competition serves to dissolve self-confidence and spread self-doubt, even among frequent winners who learn to become dependent on external sources of validation.
  • Among adults, competition leads directly to hostility and greed, both of which are the enemies of progress.

If we want to advance our society and ourselves, we must learn that competition is not the path to victory — cooperation is. Tiffany Rowe

I’m  not competitive by nature, when playing games, I enjoy the process more than who wins or loses.  Putting that in context, for me the journey in any competition is more rife with tools to learn, skill building and enjoyment.

There are many tribal societies that thrive on cooperative living and have endured for centuries.  Competition as a whole encourages greed, betrayal, to be better than others, the importance of being a winner, the lack of compassion, cooperation and most of all an absence of kindness. Competition is toxic in relationships, in business, education, in all of life. There is no benefit when someone feels inferior, lacks self-confidence, is depressed or believes they aren’t good enough. I believe it is time to instill cooperation and encourage each other to be the best person we can be.

The  result of competition is radical climate change, biological and nuclear warfare, rampant habitat destruction, water shortages, and extremes in global wealth and poverty. Louise Palmer

Cooperation is beneficial not to a few but to everyone, here are some of the advantages:

  1. Cooperative Play – A bond is formed when challenge, discovery and success is shared by everyone.
  2.  Cooperative Learning and Work –  When we compete whether at work or in school, we are invested in ourselves and what will benefit us without giving thought to anyone else, we consider everyone our rival.  But, when we cooperate, we support and help each other, giving each individual value and respect. Rather than striving to be number one, the intention is that everyone succeed, it shifts us away from greed, selfishness, aggression, anger and hurt feelings. Cooperation creates an environment of unity, openness, honesty and trust.
  3. Cooperative Activities for our Well-Being  – Competition causes enormous stress, anxiety, hostility, embarrassment and tension, can you imagine the state of our health? Cooperative activities create an atmosphere of play, relaxation and enjoying ourselves without judgment, the foundation for healthy and playful fun.

I’d like to conclude with this very powerful quote:

We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards–gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys–in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.  John Holt

Thank you, I appreciate your time.

Laura

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