When Competition Divides Us Into Losers and Losers

By Tiago540 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Tiago540 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In no way am I evolved or enlightened enough to be impervious to the thrill of competition. I love it when the Green Bay Packers win, and I feel defeated when they lose. I like it when the New England Patriots lose and I feel frustrated when they win. Am I proud of this? Not particularly.

We can all think of dozens of examples where we were on the “winning” side of things. An Olympic athlete from your home country wins a gold medal, the company you work for is named in the  “Top 100 Places to Work” list, or your child’s baseball team wins the county tournament.

When we identify with the “winners” we somehow feel victorious, even when we can rightfully claim no personal credit for it. 

Notice our behavior when we feel like we’ve won. Crowds at football stadiums and arenas sometimes taunt fans of the opposing team. Social Media blows up with scathing remarks after an election in an effort to make supporters of the losing candidate feel diminished.

Plenty of attention is paid to those who win. Look at famous athletes, actors, politicians, and business leaders and the credence they are given. As if they are successful in every facet of their lives (the success of Hollywood marriages should indicate the validity of that).

While there is a lot of benefit to a friendly game of hockey in the interest of pushing to be better, learning to work as a team to stand for something larger than just ourselves, and feeling the satisfaction of pushing through challenges, there may not be benefit in competing in all aspects of life.

Those disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory, sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them. – Benjamin Franklin

As a human race, our survival depends on cooperation. We are all stewards of our planet and everything and everyone in it. When we see ourselves as separate from one another, or from the earth itself, we’re asking for trouble.

We’ve placed ourselves into so many categories, that it’s become easy to cut ourselves off from emotion, compassion and respect for anyone outside of them.

Consider this list:

  • Republican – Democrat
  • White – Black – Asian – Hispanic
  • Married – Single – Divorced
  • Skinny – Fat
  • Rich – Poor
  • College Graduate  – High School Graduate – High School Dropout
  • White Collar – Blue Collar
  • Christian – Jewish – Islamic – Buddhist – Hindu
  • Straight – Gay

Or this list…

  • Drink Alcohol – Don’t Drink
  • Regularly Attend Religious Services – Don’t Attend Anything
  • Private Schools – Public Schools
  • Own – Rent
  • Debt Free – In Debt
  • Vaccinate – Don’t Vaccinate
  • Drive an SUV – Drive a Prius
  • North – South

Or even this list…

  • iPhone – Samsung
  • Built a home – Renovated a home
  • Suburbs – City
  • New York – L.A.
  • Watch T.V. – Don’t own a T.V.

Obviously there are hundreds of possible subsets within some of these categories, (and hundreds of more examples), but within these lists, most of us will identify more strongly with one choice over the other(s). There is nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong is when we decide that our differences divide us, or that we are somehow in a competition to prove one another “wrong” or “worse”.

Boil this down to a smaller scale, something we identify with more regularly. Like passing judgment on the woman dressed in pajama pants in the grocery store with a dirty toddler in tow. Or scoffing at a protester opposed to more ecological destruction for the purpose of making particle board furniture because you’ve decided you’re a staunch Capitalist.

Now look at the larger scale: nuclear weapons being created by powerful nations in order to threaten one another, oceans being polluted by plastic waste, world wars fought over religious ideologies or ethnic differences , cures for diseases being withheld because big pharma hasn’t yet figured out how to profit from them, and corrupt political leaders using naive constituents to further their rise in power.

Many experts believe that the human race will destroy itself within the next 100 years due to complications from mass consumption, artificial intelligence or a third world war.

What options do we have to see to it that our descendants do not meet that fate? At times I feel overwhelmed because I’m only one person, and not an influential one. But I also believe in the idea of community and in my “the sky is always blue” mind I have to believe that most of us would prefer to find a way to set aside our differences, value cooperation more than competition, and start working toward solutions.

I don’t have grandiose ideas that would make a difference on a global scale, but I can start by loving my neighbors, even the Patriots fans. What about you? What ideas do you have, or concepts do you believe would support cooperation?

 No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. – John Donne

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