TOPAZ Issue 8 / 2003
A Musical Tribute
Understanding Competition
The Template of Sacred Architecture
Helping hand for ADHD children
Brief history of humour
More about Humour
How to watch films
Shakespeare’s Private Theatre
A Day in the Theatre of Life

Understanding Competition

Here is a scenario we have most probably all witnessed and perhaps participated in. It is the school's Sports Day. All the parents have come to watch their child run in the games. The hundred-metre race is about to begin, and twenty bright-eyed and serious-looking ten-year-old children line up to begin. They all want to do well for their parents, who look proudly on. The race begins and all the children run as fast as they can to the line at the end of the track, being cheered on by their mums and dads.

We probably all know this scene well or something like it. The thing is that at the end of that race there is one winning child and nineteen losers. The emphasis of the success is placed upon who can run fastest and not the fact that each and every one of those children, no matter what their shape or size, tried the best they could. Thus at this young age we are introduced into the world of competition - for many people today the essence of life.

This article begins to look at the mechanics of competition and proposes an alternative view to the current emphasis upon competition as a healthy facet of modern life.

In a recent book on the subject of leadership it was stated that 'as a first principle, one must never outshine the master'. This seems a curious principle in that any teacher, leader or master would surely wish the best success for their acolytes, even to the extent of them surpassing their mentor. Everything in the natural worlds works at its optimum. We human beings, however, are granted the great gift of choice, and for us to be at optimum is a choice that we face in every moment of every day. To struggle to be more effective is a natural compulsion or urge, and we rely upon the encouragement and support of those around us - especially our teachers and leaders.

It is understood that competition helps us towards our optimum, in that it creates a gladiatorial environment where, by pitting ourselves against each other, we test and strengthen ourselves. This contest can be useful in honing our skills and developing our strengths. It is the concept of winning and losing, better or lesser, that turns contest into competition, and turns natural development into a potentially harmful process. Wherever did the idea of winners and losers come from? Remove this concept from our minds and we instantly have an unrecognizable and improved world. Would our attempts to be the best we can be diminished? It is unlikely, for it is in our very make-up to try. What would diminish is the psychological warfare between parties to reduce, crush, deflate, make lesser and, if necessary, destroy the opposition.

Each person alive today is unique, and each in their particular way is special with their own characteristics, natures, qualities and so on. Although our basic design is forged from the same template, each of us is different and each of us has the opportunity to find out who we are and what we are here to do. Real freedom is to be able to reach to be the best that one can be, from self-choice, in order to fulfill oneself and build one's character. How we do this is also important, for in the freedom we have in our relationships with other things, with other lives, we have always the choice of being able to enhance or impair, to heal or inflict, to improve or diminish. There is a contradiction in the idea that an individual can be the best they can be whilst denying the qualities that are fundamental to the best of the species.

Comparison, which leads to competition, can be a very unfortunate and harmful process. To say that one person is better at carrying weights than another is to deny the individual qualities of each person. One of those people may have been born with a weaker constitution and thus would have had to overcome and tackle more in themselves to reach the same place as another who was more assembled to meet the need. Comparison would ignore the effort, the will, and the trials, of those involved and reduce all to a commodity - eventually with a comparative price or value.

"Over the last few decades the nature of competition has changed, and it is more aggressive than ever before."

Competition makes for a cold world, a 'dog eat dog' world of cut and thrust, inferiority and superiority complexes, psychological disturbance and many lonely people. This is the world that conforms to the idea of the survival of the fittest and, even if one believes this is how we as human beings should go on, who or what has determined what the fittest means and the consequences of how this is determined? In human terms is the idea of fittest to be associated with physical prowess, or rather the quality of a life lived and how that life impacts upon others around them?

What a strange world we live in today, where almost everything from acting to growing marrows to the grooming of our domestic pets to poetry and almost every human pursuit has become a point of competition. We have this year's best dog, best actor, best book, best rose, best company, best charitable act, and so on and so on. We somehow learn to admire and elevate the winners, or we look down upon the losers. A feeling of competition between nations clouds patriotism or a sentiment about our land, so it becomes less how we feel about our country and more about how we feel towards so-called 'foreigners'. Competition has even extended into the worlds of gender, of men and women who, no longer content to accept and respect the qualities of the respective differences, have to make this a point of competition especially within the working environment.
Where did this insatiable need to turn everything into a competition come from? Sports and games have been an essential part of human history since it is recorded, and never more so than in our times. However, over the last few decades the nature of competition has changed, and it is more aggressive than ever before.

"True freedom is in proceeding after having contemplated responsibility."

Many people do not want to be absorbed within the masses or reduced to a number in a crowd, and this has often stirred the instinct to protect an individual path to the cost of others. So it can be that we mistake the dismissal of others as an act of freedom, when it is a dismissal of the awareness that those others are themselves unique and purposeful. Freedom surely cannot be in doing as we please at any cost, but rather in being able to determine and walk a path, having contemplated the responsibility, consequences and motivation for the act.

Have you ever tried to ice-skate? That first time on the ice is a very wobbly experience. And yet you can watch the ice-skating performances in the winter Olympics, when the athletes seem to sweep and soar across the ice with a most marvellous freedom. What a comparison to one's own first faltering steps. The freedom of the athletes is built on hours of work and can only exist because it is supported by a great discipline, commitment and developed skill.

So it is in our lives that a true freedom is built from personal work and exists because it is supported by our own self-assembled skills of responsibility, courage, service, care... The illusion of freedom occurs when a person denies these potentials and begins to waste his or her responsibilities, in whatever field - about other people, about one's religion, at home, in the fairness of the relationship with ourselves. True freedom emerges with the increase of the range and depth of our responsibilities.

From a very early age we adopt the idea that competition and winning over other people will make us free - free from responsibility for ourselves, for others and the world we live in; free from losing; free from being hurt. But the experience of life teaches that this is not so. Often when we win in this competitive game we actually lose - we lose the ability to understand an adjacent perspective, we abandon our own development potential, and we lose a future friend.

"The way of humanity is to encourage each other's strengths and support each other in adversity or when we are weak."

The root of the prefix com- carries the meaning of 'with', whilst petition as we know carries the meaning of an entreaty or request, often formal and generally to a superior. Putting this together it would imply that originally competition was an act that was within a process of seeking something beyond the act itself. It is almost as if the act of striving to be at optimum is the act of petitioning for an extra allowance, an added permission to reach beyond what has been accepted limitations. It is asking for more by being at full.

Most of us at some point in our lives have been the victims of competition as it is in the world today. Perhaps it has contributed to us feeling less than valued, maybe to being less than full in our responses and attempts to do things, possibly we tend to lack confidence or self-belief. A few people would have been the beneficiaries of competition in different forms throughout their life and would have difficulty in accepting anything unfortunate about competition. Whatever the case, as a generation we are in danger of becoming fanatical about competition to the extent that it will influence every aspect of life. Without the necessary reasoning and considerations, and without educating our children into new values about each other and about the natural place of contest, we are in danger of creating a hierarchical world based upon man-made assessments.

Yes, each person alive is unique. We each have our strengths and we each have our weaknesses. The way of humanity is to encourage each other's strengths and support each other in adversity or when we are weak. It is never a matter of who is good at what or comparing ourselves with others, but more a matter of whatever we are applying ourselves to, how full can we be within it?

This article was written jointly by the Topaz editorial team

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