In going through some old articles I had written about six years ago, I found this one. It has been cut into two pieces. The second will run on the blog Thursday, March 1.
Creation or Competition?
This is a concept I’ve known intuitively for a long, long time. I grew up in a very competitive family that lived in a very competitive town that resided in a very competitive state, which was a part of a very competitive country, which was a small part of a very competitive world. In one way I was not a competitive child because I was not good at sports—any sports in any way. However, I see now how competitive I was in other areas like academics and band. Mostly I didn’t compete with others; mostly I competed with myself, and often I lost.
One such competition I remember in the depths of who I am. I was in the fifth grade, and up until that year I had literally made A’s in everything. Every subject. Every six weeks since I’d been in the first grade. And then I got that report card with a—gasp—B! I was crushed, devastated, destroyed.
We found out that the B represented the underlying score of 89.4. AN 89.4. Not just one point from an A, but 1/10th of a point from an A! Yet that 10th represented a chasm between who I thought I had to be in order to be worth something and who I felt like I now was.
It sounds so silly. How many people get devastated over a B? In fact, I’m sure if you didn’t get straight A’s all through school, you are probably saying, “Ah, poor baby. You got a B. It’s tragic.” But understand, to me, it was tragic. It was as if who I thought I was had died. Tears couldn’t bring her back. Sorrow and guilt over what I could have or should have done to gain that coveted 10th of a point couldn’t bring the opportunity back. Nothing could.
As this period of my life progressed, my family over and over explained that it was all right. They still loved me. Slowly (VERY slowly!) I came to accept that I wasn’t perfect and that my worth wasn’t my grades, but it was immensely difficult, and in truth it took until I was in college to really believe them.
So I know what havoc living with a competition-mind set can wreak in a life.
Competition has several underpinnings that are present when it is. The first is a belief in separateness. I am separate from those I am competing with, and thus, one of us can be better, smarter, more worthy of praise than the other. Another underpinning belief of competition is that the good things in this life are inherently limited; therefore, if you want some of the good stuff, you must necessarily beat out someone else to get it.
These two lead to the dominant underpinning of competition which is fear. For if I am separate, I am alone, and if I must necessarily fight for the limited resources, my ability must be greater than that of everyone else who is competing, or I will suffer. These all equal one thing: Fear.
If I am in competition with you, and you get something I wanted, it follows that I will separate myself further from you, fall into greater fear, and believe more deeply that I must get better to get more. We see the attempt to subvert the naturalness of this progression played out at the end of a game (whatever the game). It’s called “sportsmanship.” Win or lose, you should shake the opposing squads hands as a sign of respect. But the truth is win or lose, you don’t want to shake their hand. Why? Because if you’ve won, this show of respect necessarily brings the loser back up if not up to your level than closer. If you’ve lost, shaking the winner’s hand affirms they are better than you and something you valued has been lost.
The world’s dominant teaching is competition. We are taught from early on:
You must “learn to play the game.”
You must maximize your ability to win (or get run over if you don’t).
You have to do your best.
Make success your goal.
Accomplish. Triumph. Win.
All of these are the aims of a competitive world.