An occasion on which a winner is selected from among two or more contestants
The act of competing as for profit or a prize
A business relation in which two parties compete to gain customers
And the winner is… no one
The scientists will tell you that man is naturally competitive; that throughout his existence he has competed for food, water, and someone to mate with.
This may be true, but what also may be true is that man has also learned to be cooperative with others. Competitive and cooperative. But we only cooperate when it is in our own interests to do so.
Private business is immensely competitive, with each business trying to outdo the other, by creating a better product, offering a better service, or even dropping the price. The end result of the competition we are told is a win-win situation for the consumer.
Competition drives innovation, we are told. If there is no competition, then why would man try to do it any better?
Unfortunately, this seems to ring true when we look at state owned businesses, and see stagnation of ideas; terrible service, huge waste, and elevated prices. With no competition, there is no incentive for them to do any better. As soon as the businesses are sold off to private enterprise, where the only goal is survival, companies will do anything to improve services etc. because their very existence depends on them satisfying more customers than their competitor. But that’s not what our discussion is about today.
If we believe that man is naturally competitive, and always will be, then we shouldn’t worry too much. All of this competition is just like a modern game of survival of the fittest, but in the past, food was scarce, we had to hunt for it; now we just “hunt” for it down at the local supermarket.
Today’s competition has taken a different turn. We compete to be the most powerful military country in the world, or just the richest country. Somehow, competition has taken on super proportions, and we are now competing against millions of others; not individually, but as a group, country against country. Within that group, the competition extends to multinational organisations, smaller companies, sole traders, and then man against man, the strongest, the fittest, the most intelligent, the fastest etc.
We have developed competition on so many layers, that it is impossible to find someone who isn’t competing. Schoolchildren have to compete with others in everything from sports to who has the highest grade in an exam. We compete for the attentions of the opposite sex by buying the fanciest clothes, wearing the sexiest make-up, having the most up to date hair style.
Even charities which are supposed to exist solely for the purpose of helping people, are competing with other charities for government funding and donations. We can’t escape from it. The whole world is competing. Songs compete with other songs in the popular chart; films compete with other films, scientists try to outdo one another with new discoveries; even some villagers compete in festivals for the person with the largest vegetables.
Competition has taken on a life of its own. Sometimes, we are not even consciously trying to compete with others, such as at award ceremonies, where someone puts our name forward as “best screen writer 2008,” and then four others are put up against us, all competing for the same prize.
“And the winner is…”
Incredible isn’t it? A competition we didn’t even enter, and suddenly we are put under tremendous psychological pressure! We think “I hope it’s me, I hope it’s me, I hope it’s me…”
“…and the winner is…” someone else.
So you graciously applaud them and smile; only underneath, you are bitterly disappointed.
What on earth is going on? What has happened to our societies? Why do we put each other under so much pressure just so we can be the “winner?” Whether at school, business or the arts, the pressure is the same; must win, must win, must win. Surely something has gone wrong at the very core of our civilisation, for that’s what we are supposed to be, a civilisation (a society in an advanced state of social development). Maybe trying to beat everyone is what civilisation is about, but I hardly think so. “Be the best you can be, alan,” my mother used to say, but what that inevitably meant was trying to beat everyone else and come out “on top.”
I started competing in running races as a young boy. I was never a “natural great,” but I was pretty good, although when I entered the races with the “best” runners in school, I never stood a chance. All I needed was for them to not turn up, or to injure themselves along the way. On several occasions this happened, where two of the best boys in my year weren’t taking part for some reason or other. Now I had a chance!
I ran my heart out, knowing if I could only pass these last three I could be the winner! I accelerated with the last of my energy, my legs feeling like lead, and slowly but surely, I passed one boy, then another, then another. I crossed the finish tape. I was first! I was first! I looked around and saw everyone applauding me, my mother was there, applauding like mad, and she came running over.
“Well done, alan. Well done! You were first, you were great!”
And it is true, I did win.
“But only because the best runners in my year, who always win, weren’t there mum!”
“Don’t worry about that,” she said. “If they were here you’d have beaten them too.”
And maybe I would have, but the next race they were in, I came a dismal fourth. You see it doesn’t matter who’s competing and who’s not. It doesn’t matter if the best aren’t there – that’s their tough luck. If the competition is today and you don’t enter, who’s fault is that?
Imagine if the boys who were the best runners, had come up to one of the judges on that day and said “But we’re the best runners, we’re much better than alan, you should give us the medal,” what would he say?
“But you weren’t running today.”
As the saying goes, “you’ve got to be in it to win it!” No one cares about someone who says they’re the best; it’s all about the day. If you don’t compete you can’t win. And unfortunately, that seems to be what is happening in the world today.
At work, we must compete in order to prove to someone that we are the best baker, window cleaner, or truck driver. We need someone to pat us on the back and say “Yes, you’re the best.” And it all starts with the interview!
We compete with many others even to get to the interview, then we compete with the candidates at the first interview, then we compete with the candidates at the second interview, and finally we may be accepted or rejected. Competition is about getting the approval from your peers that “Yes! You are the best.”
There are always winners and losers
We all seek approval from our parents and teachers, and when we are the winners, we are applauded; but what happens when we are not the winners? We are scolded and told to “try harder!” What do you think this artificial competition does to the developing mind? To those who are successful, it affirms in their mind that they are better than everyone else; but to the loser, it is like their world has ended; their self-esteem drops through the floor and they feel genuinely miserable. What sort of society have we created that makes winners and losers out of wonderful human beings?
Competition for food was critical to our success as a species in the beginning, but this has nothing to do with food or biology, this is man-made. As long as you have enough food to eat you are not a loser. You can never be a loser, that is just a word invented by those who seek to separate us, but we are one. Winning and losing is a concept that has no place in a compassionate society. So what if you’re not the fastest runner? So what if you don’t get an “A” in maths? So what if you don’t become a managing director. Do you see? It doesn’t matter what you are, as long as you have love and compassion in your life.
Companies want us to compete with each other at school, and in interviews, because it means they can compete and be the winners; and governments want companies to compete so they can be the winning government. But all this winning and losing is just in people’s minds. People who are not satisfied with just being. People who want separation between rich and poor, intellectual and ill-educated; but true intelligence can never come from competition, it merely helps to suppress it.
And the winner is, no one
Can you imagine what would happen if we stopped competing? What if there was no competition in school or industry; or no competition for the best film of the year, or the best runner. What would happen? Would society as we know it collapse? Would this be the end of life as we know it? All I can say is “Yes, hopefully!” But out of it would come something new. Something we had never thought about before; or maybe we would just start wanting to compete again. All I know is, we must break through the prison that competition has trapped us in.
There is no point in me trying to offer some idealistic solution to the problem, because there is no problem, only us, and we are so stuck trying to win approval from everyone as to how great we are that no one would listen anyway.
“I want approval, because it makes my mind happy, so I do what society has told me will win me approval: I compete.”
I hope you are starting to see that this has nothing to do with our ancestral heritage. This has to do with the belief in the mind that if I compete and win then people will think a lot of me. I will be rich and I will be powerful. This has nothing to do with the betterment of the human race, quite the opposite in fact.
So what has competition done for the world as we know it? Has it made us more loving and tolerant towards each other, or helped us make the planet more sustainable for future generations? What has competition done for anyone, except making people a lot more stressed than they should be?
The reason we are so stressed is that when you compete, your body feels like it is in a race for survival; although passing exams, getting a better job or making more money is hardly survival. Nonetheless, your body does not know that, so it is constantly in a state of stress. If you don’t believe me just go and ask anyone who works in a corporate environment or on a production line what stress is like. All for what? So we can make money.
Money talks, and so does power
Why else would we be in competition with each other? As we said before, this is not a race for survival; this is a race to see who can be bigger, and bolder, and richer than anyone else. And as I write this topic, I fail to see how any of us could get caught up in this illusion, but we do. We think competing is natural, so we continue, but that is because we are asleep. We are being manipulated by powerful people who desire that competition continues because it betters them.
Can you not see it?
At school, you win the race because you were told to enter it by your teachers. At the job interview, you had to compete with others because that was the only way you could get the job, and ultimately the money to supply yourself with your basic needs! So your basic needs, like food, shelter and clothing are only attainable by competition. The scientists were right, man is competitive, you see!
But we should have no need to compete. There should be plenty of what we need available on this earth, except those in power hold on to it greedily, and tell you that if you want it you are going to fight for it. You’re going to have to compete at school and work to pay for it, and if you want any more than just the basics you’re going to have to compete and pay for that too.
Water: Controlled by the powerful
Food: Controlled by the powerful
Shelter: Controlled by the powerful
Clothing: Controlled by the powerful
“Compete!” they cry, “it’s good for you! It’s good for progress, it’s good for humanity, and it’s good for the planet.” But we must know that none of that can be true. I agree that in times of dire need, we will physically compete with others for every scrap of food and water that is available, but that time is not upon us. We have heard that man can be a cooperative animal, and it is time we started cooperating – not being controlled by the powerful, nor dictated to.
So let us examine cooperation vs. competition.
Many businesses have been set up as worker’s cooperatives (a jointly owned commercial enterprise (usually organized by farmers or consumers) that produces and distributes goods and services and is run for the benefit of its owners), and have become successful, but unfortunately they are all still competing, because they want people to buy from them and not another cooperative or company. They are a good idea but no more than that. No, we must look more deeply if we want to get to the truth of this.
We all play games, don’t we? But the outcome of the game always requires a winner. From card games to board games, there must be one person who is better than everyone else. So several months ago I tried to come up with a game that cannot ever have a winner, and wondered how I could possibly market it! I wanted to invent a game where finishing the game requires full cooperation between all players otherwise the game wouldn’t finish. The only rule would be full cooperation between the players, and it must show that cooperation can be as enjoyable as competition.
Well, try as I might, I just couldn’t see how this would work! I became more and more frustrated. I could see how I could create a game that required full cooperation in order for it to be finished, but playing games isn’t about just completing the game; that goal, in the eyes of the players is easy – what they want, is to compete!
And that’s when it became clear to me. Competition isn’t essential, it is just that our minds and our bodies become excited when we are competing, just as they would be if we were hunting a lion, and our lives depended on killing it so we could have something to eat. I was bitterly disappointed.
Of course, the excitement was of winning, of beating the other players; how can it be exciting just to cooperate? In fact, the more I started to think, I realised that most people do not even understand what cooperation (working together on a common goal or project) is, instead, even in a game of cooperation, the me, the individual, the competitor, comes out every time, trying to offer ideas that are better than his co-players; in a sense trying to win, to beat them, or at the very least, to feel the excitement of competition.
I cannot say that cooperation is more exciting than competition. I can see why we love to compete, but our minds are so stuck in this thinking that the idea of a game with no winner seem incredible to us, and most people would say, a little stupid.
“Why would you bother playing at all, if there’s no winner?”
The excitement of winning would seem central to human existence. From our hunting days when winning meant survival through to the modern day boardroom, where winning means more money, we happily compete.
Ok. I give up. You win!
So, is that the end of our discussion? Is there no more to say? Do we just accept that there are winners and losers in all walks of life? Do we give up on cooperation, just because it doesn’t make our heart beat faster and excite our mind, or do we continue trying to seek out a future when man can at last see cooperation, and not competition, as the way?
Everything we seek is already here. Everything we desire to be we already are. Everything we need has already been provided. So what if cooperation means that we don’t get to feel excited about beating another human being! Are we not of intelligent minds where we can see that this kind of activity is futile? I guess not! But when you see the truth of it, you will never want to win another game again, but be happy to just play, that is the joy of cooperation.
I cannot see another way out of all the trouble that man has caused himself, his neighbour, and the planet as a whole. Nothing is good enough for us, the individual; we do not see ourselves as part of the whole. It is just me, my ambition, my success, my winning; just like in a game of cards. But it is up to us as parents to release our children from this never ending cycle, otherwise we will continue to try to beat each other at whatever cost; and we may find that soon we have nothing left to compete with.
All will be gone. We will have used up everything.
The trees, the minerals, and the oil will have gone, and we will be left thinking: “What if we had cooperated as a planet to create a sustainable world for every being, not just a world where a few people win for a short time?” But by then it will be too late. I am not trying to scare you into action, just to get you to wake up to yourselves. But then again, you may not want to wake up.
Cooperation is the whole. Competition is division
Which will you choose?