“The American mind in particular has been trained to equate success with victory, to equate doing well with beating someone.” — Eliot Aronson.
Competition is running amok in our culture in many ways. It’s like a national religion and to question the advisability of extreme greediness to compete and win is considered by many to be un-American. Competition permeates our culture so thoroughly that we take it for granted, like it’s the natural order of things. After all, our free-enterprise system depends upon it. Capitalism depends on us to judge our self-worth by how much more we have than the other guy — more money, prestige, control, beauty, strength, trophies, etc.
When you think of the concepts that are akin to competition, such as aggression, greed, envy, distrust, conflict, violence, we do not see a pretty picture of human striving. When you think about how the idea of free enterprise has been distorted by leveraged buyouts, takeovers, unscrupulous tactics relied on by corporate leaders to gain the advantage, or to make CEOs rich or to gain political favor, or to chase that encompassing fetish, expansion, you can see where competition can easily be turned into a monster. And we wonder why we have so much trouble living together with love and compassion and in peace.
So how competitive are you? Try answering a few questions that may give you a hint.
• When you are stuck behind a slow driver you: a). honk and expect him to move over or speed up. b). ride his rear bumper, hoping he’ll get the message. c). slow down and figure you might as well relax.
• When you hear about someone who has more materially than you have, you: a). mentally try to figure out how you can surpass them. b). feel put down by the person telling you. c). hope they donate a lot to charity.
• If someone were to challenge you to a game you enjoy and they are good at, you would play: a). only if you thought you could win. b). play, but be very disappointed if you lost. c). play for the fun of it.
• You believe that children should learn that: a). competition is inevitable so they had better learn to compete early. b). you must watch out or others will take advantage of you. c). cooperation is more important than competition.
• How important is it to you to have the most impressive car, the biggest diamond, the smartest kid? a). very b). not much c). not at all.
• Success, to you, is: a). having more of everything than the other guy. b). feeling good about yourself. c). feeling you have contributed something positive to society.
• If you have, (or were to have) a child in school: a). it is important that you that he/she strives to become the best in their class. b). you are satisfied with decent grades. c). you mainly want them to learn, grow, and be happy.
• When it comes to taking steroids to gain the edge in athletics, you think: a). Why not? Anything to help win! b). the laws against it should be enforced. c). it is a sad comment on how sick competition can get.
• When it would come to your athletic son playing football: a). in spite of the latest information about concussions, you would encourage it. b). you would hope it would toughen him up. c). you would steer him to a less violent sport.
• If you had a chance to move up the corporate ladder, or win an election or tennis championship, and you could win more easily by doing something dishonest: a). you would do it if you were sure you wouldn’t be found out. b). maybe you would do it, depending on the circumstances. c). you would never do such a thing.
As you no doubt guessed, the A answers characterize a very competitive person. B answers — you’re probably average. If you answered mostly Cs, you are likely a cool idealist.
“The security that is so vital for healthy human development is precisely what competition inhibits.” — Alfie Kohn, “No Contest.”
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 700 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.