Is Competition A Positive Thing?

This is something I have pondered for a long time. So finally I have put thought into writing. Hopefully it does not come off as a rant, but instead spawns some serious critical thought on the subject. If you have any questions or would like to talk further on this subject please comment below or shoot over an email

Since the beginning of our existence man has conquered and divided the land of this earth. Whether it’s building fences, using graffiti or even urinating, man has made a point at attempting to own the land of which he walks upon. Not only does man want to hold its existing plot of land, but also wants to simultaneously acquire new land while doing so. This concept can be attributed to almost every single war and skirmish we have experienced. Men fighting over territory and attempting to spread their reach of land, doctrine, civilization and control further and further. While examining this concept of expanding territories I want to propose a theory in which I think competition contributes to the ignorant expansion of wasteful western societies. This is not meant to be a critique of society, but rather an investigation into how it functions.

Competition by definition is nothing to fear, it is simply giving the title of victor to whom who administered the best results in any given scenario. We, as Americans, are very familiar with competition being we witness it every day. Whether it be at home, in school, on television, or on the job, competition is seen almost everywhere. This is due to the fact that it is the driving force of society and it is necessary…right? It’s what makes life fun and fair in most people eyes, but is it really an essential part of life?

From my findings most people would say yes, competition is necessary and it is contributed to the success of the United States in most cases. Being that our whole system is based upon competition, from the candidates that compete for our votes, to the business’ that compete for our money, to the churches that compete for our support. The whole thing is entirely built off the idea that competition will produce the best results, capitalism being the best example of that. Competition does work, and it’s effective and fair in most people’s eyes, but I am not questioning if it has the capability to work, I am more or less interested in if competition can be to blame for the perpetual cycle we find ourselves in. Fighting over territory and appropriating space.

Competition has existed as long as man has been alive and much before that. It is essentially been the building blocks of life, and has been responsible for the development of every thing we find here on earth. Through adapting and competing, life has manifested here on earth and done everything in its power to survive. In nature we constantly find animals competing over territory, food, water supplies, and much more. It appears as though competition resides in the genes of all living organisms, so it is no wonder that we think we posses a competitive quality as well. But is this competitive quality really as natural as we think?

The reason I became initially interested in this topic was because of a story once told to me in college. A professor told my class about Germany and its admission into the Olympics, but it was a bit different than most of us would have anticipated. Apparently Germany before its involvement in the Olympics also held national sports for the countries amusement. The only strange or unique quality of these sports was that there was no winner or loser, but it was rather for pure fun, no competition. Initially I thought this was foolish. How can you even have a sport without a winner and a loser? I could not even imagine how that would even look. Perplexed by this concept I shortly wrote it off as stupid, and assumed Germany was behind the curve at that time, if they had not yet incorporated a winner and loser into sports. It also appeared that those from the west at the time felt very similar and quickly persuaded Germany to participate in their competitive Olympics, as opposed to their own pointless sports. Since that time, we have a had a competitive country vs. country Olympics where the winners go home with gold and everybody else goes home with broken dreams. Obviously the same can be said about other sports, there is a winner and a loser.

This has been the beauty of sports; many people work as hard as they can until one person or group has proven dominance. The reward of winning is tremendous and is what most people strive for when they compete. And not only in sports do we compete but like I previously stated, we also compete in school, at work, and with our finances.  Every morning as you wake up you begin competing against every other person on the planet. You compete to be the best looking, as you put yourself together in the morning. You compete with your neighbors as you admire your pretty lawn, house and cars. You compete at work to be the most effective and efficient employee amongst all your co-workers. You compete with everyone on the road when you race home through rush hour. And you compete with your T.V. for attention from the rest of your family when you get home. So how can competition be a bad thing when it almost seems unavoidable?

When it comes to competition, we Americans typically recognize only two legitimate positions: enthusiastic support and qualified support. The first view holds that the more we immerse our children (and ourselves) in rivalry, the better. That competition builds character and produces excellence. The second stance admits that our society has gotten carried away with the need to be Number One.  We push our kids too hard and too fast to become winners, but insist that competition can be healthy and fun if we keep it in perspective. These are viewpoints held by a man named Alfie Kohn, the author of the book, “No contest”.

In his findings Kohn makes an analogy about competition and sugar. He states, “competition is to self esteem, like sugar is to teeth.” I believe this to be a very powerful and creative way of describing competition. For the taste of victory is sweet, and though victory may taste good, the constant defeat that comes with competing can turn into plaque on your self-esteem. And even winning can be corrosive to your self perception because it can construct a dependency on winning, and one’s self worth can be wrongly attributed to what you have done and who you have beaten.

He clarifies though that children should still learn discipline and tenacity but that it does not require the action of winning or losing. When classrooms and playing fields are based on cooperation rather than competition, children feel better about themselves. They work with others instead of against them, and their self-esteem doesn’t depend on winning. Finally, he states that people succeed in spite of competition, not because of it.

Most of Mr. Kohns work has been seen as un-American, but then what again does American mean? For if it has any relationship to the word competitive, then by definition America would be associated with words such as, aggressive, cutthroat, and willingness to oppose. Well I think it’s probably fair then to say that Alfie Kohns work is a bit un-American. So this raises the question to whether or not being considered un-American is a bad thing or not. And whether this promoted competitiveness can be to blame for a more aggressive and violent society.

Though most of us would probably consider ourselves non-violent, we are all in some way or another violent since we are represented by the United States army (the most violent army in the world). Those who represent our territory represent us globally and they have painted quite the aggressive picture of our society, we appear as though we are a society that picks fights and never backs down. We are like the shitty kid at school who starts fights and then tries to say it wasn’t their fault and blame it on someone else.

So why do we continue to act like the world bully if most of us are aware that our actions are not justified? Because survival is a competition, and it’s us competing against them, and we have no intention of losing. We have been so trained on the idea that victory is success that we have come to associate wars and battles to victory. In our eyes we are victors of the world, scouring the globe in our air-craft carriers, spewing out our dominance from previous victories. But in reality we are a nation, who is 15 trillion dollars in debt, has a below average education system, has sub par healthcare, and is just entirely over aggressive. But we don’t care!

From birth we have been exposed to an abundance of competition and by the time we get older we are almost numb to competition. We no longer have sympathy for our fellow human being competitors, we ridicule them and wish badly for them. How often do attend sporting events and the fans are cheering for both sides and congratulating competitors for their entertaining performance? Rather, you witness fans hostile with one another and angrily watching and cursing at the event. By the end of some events fans can become angry enough to dismantle stadiums and cause mayhem in neighboring towns. Let us also not forget about the actual competitors themselves and the kind of fights they too get in. So these arenas and stadiums almost become harbors for aggressive and hostile energy.

It would be one thing if we just had competitive sporting events, but it’s a whole other monster because of how highly publicized and advertised the sporting industry is. Not only are you constantly confronted with ads by the actual leagues themselves, like the NFL, NBA, etc., but you are also harassed by the apparel brands and all other brands that associate with the leagues. This is a full dose of competition all day everyday because these brands don’t like to be around the bush when it comes to advertising competition. They quote phrases like “just do it” and “be the best,” as well as assemble words like, winner, beat, fierce, and assault into their slogans.

Though that may be a harsh criticism of the sporting industry, I think further attention needs to be put on what we consider entertainment. Are our extremely physical sporting events and overbearing promotion of them really appropriate entertainment for a society. Or do they promote an aggressive society that is quick to wage war, and an over critical society, that judges and mocks fellow human beings?

I think one avenue where competition really gets construed is when it becomes the central theme of an economy, capitalism for example. Now we analyze this same aggressive society competing over money, and not only amongst one another but with the world. Capitalism is to blame for many of the world’s problems in my opinion. Us from the west seem to believe that everything in the world is waiting to be owned, and we are all waiting to own it. So we do whatever it takes to attain as much of the world before everybody else. And like the sporting industry the economy is heavily advertised in the media. Constantly you will hear the state of the economy discussed on the news and the ways in which we need to compete in the global market. This is all informative and necessary in my opinion because the well being of our economy ensures the well being of our nation and us. The only problem is that even if everything were concrete with our economy and we were not in debt, the drive to create and compete globally would stay the same. For we are not competing for what we need as societies but we are competing for everything that’s available. This leads to greed because in competition those with more money are the winners, so everyone strives to acquire as much money as possible because everyone wants to be winners. So that’s why we have seen almost every single notable institution in our economy perform illegal acts to acquire more money. Again I am not saying capitalism does not work, but is its competitive driven atmosphere can promote greed and unfair business.

Competition occurs naturally between living organisms that co-exist in the same environment. For example, animals compete over water supplies, food, mates, and other biological resources. Humans compete usually for food and mates, though when these needs are met deep rivalries often arise over the pursuit of wealth, prestige, and fame. Many evolutionary biologists view inter-species and intra-species competition as the driving force of adaptation, and ultimately of evolution. Some social Darwinists claim that competition also serves as a mechanism for determining the best-suited group; politically, economically and ecologically

As we watch and observe the astounding evolutionary path of nature, as it adapts and survives through competition, we must be hesitant to assume these behaviors are natural by all living creatures. I think we need to acknowledge the fact that we are not animals, we are human beings, no matter what evolutionary history you may think we share with animals, we are not them. We too compete against death to survive like all other living creatures, but that should be the extent of our competition. We don’t need to battle with one-another over sporting events; we don’t need to exploit the world for all its worth, and we don’t need to war with those who reside on land and minerals we want. The world is not a naturally aggressive place; we just made it that way.

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