Sunday, October 21, 2007

No contest.....

There is one place where I believe competition is useful. Voluntary sports.

There is simply no other venue where it seems to add anything. In fact, it seems destructive.

I become hyper-aware of its presence in so many things. And there are very few others aside from a few obscure authors like Alfie Kohn and, to a degree, Jonathan Kozol who has touched on the topic without actual indictment. He sort of mugwumped on the issue.

Alfie Kohn says this though: Competition can be defined as "mutu­ally exclusive goal attainment": my success requires your failure; our fates are negatively linked. Put differently, two or more individuals are trying to achieve a goal that cannot be attained by both or all of them. The all too ­familiar pressure to be number one grows out of this arrangement. We have become accustomed to living with it and quick to defend it. We have been trained, in effect, not only to compete, but to believe there is value in doing so.

He goes on to say that success and competition are not necessarily interlinked. There are plenty of things I can succeed at that have nothing to do with taking anything away from you. I can write a book, knit a scarf, grow a garden, run, swim and any assortment of things that never require even a passing glance at what you are doing.

I believe we can engage in cooperate activities that benefit all of us. Blogging is a good example of that. We share information with one another, support one another, teach each other and entertain each other. It can be done without competition.

I believe that or I wouldn't be here.

There are times when it seems that competition winds its ugly web through this, too. All of us know the ways it does that so I won't bother reiterating them. It's just an example anyway. I'm not ready to level that indictment yet... although I've seriously considered it.

My primary point is that I believe competition leads to stress, disrupts families, ruins friendships and turns nearly every human experience into an exercise in trophy-gathering instead of something joyful or unifying.

This is a topic that has fascinated me since I was a kid. In fact, it is the topic that led me to choose Sociology as a major in college. I wanted to eventually show through academic study that we can live cooperatively rather than seeing each other as opponents for resources that are certainly plentiful. There is no scarcity in this world and we don't need to fight for a bigger piece of the pie than anyone else. We don't need have power over others to validate ourselves. In fact, I believe it is community that validates us most.

Your thoughts?



Girlplustwo said...

in general i agree. i have never been a competitive person and also wonder how "losing" in sports affects kids as they grow.

there is something for trying hard to achieve your goals, but somehow i see that differently than competition but perhaps it's still from the same family.

Cecilieaux Bois de Murier said...

Yayy, I'm the first!!!! There's my competitive streak. Is it harmful? Will Julie or Lawyermama feel their self-esteem drop to the ground because ... hear this once again! ... posted first, first, first?

For once I get a blank slate. I don't have to read umpteen messages and feel "Darn it, how come she always gets comments and I sometimes get none?" I don't have to stick out among the mommybloggers because I have the wrong sexual equipment (obviously the reason a post of mine someone nominated for Blogrhet never was posted) and sometimes different sensibilities.

When I am first, I feel great to be first. When I am 16th, it doesn't feel as great. Sometimes I'll say "Self, I'm going to disagree, no one is going to read what I said, even TGal will have moved on and ignore my comment, let's not comment."

What would the opposite be? Cooperation, solidarity, empathy.

It doesn't take much empathy for a group of similarly sexed people of a similar age and sensibility to form a mutual admiration society in which everyone pats each one's head gently and says "Nice job!"

It's harder to cross lines and see something of a common human commonality in someone totally different, say Snoskred and me. She's an anglosaxon married woman of 30-something whose developed a hobby of batiting scammers from her place in the outback in Down Under. I'm a mediterranean once married man of 50-something living in the middle of the capital city of the empire whose hobbies are all literary and philosophic. Can this acquaintance be saved? She says not. I say snot. We'll see ...

My thought is that I find cooperation, solidarity, empathy more appealing, but much harder and unnatural than competition. Even when the stakes are relatively low (sorry, but I wouldn't die if the bloggosphere imploded tomorrow, much as I would lament losing the surprisingly interesting discoveries I have made).

This is almost a post of my own. Sorry.

(But ... nyah, nyah, nyah fellow commenters ... now find something original to say.) ;-)

Cec & desist

Cecilieaux Bois de Murier said...

No effing fair, Jen!

Cecilieaux Bois de Murier said...

I was here first!!!!

thailandchani said...

Cecilieaux, I must admit you gave me a good chuckle.

As for the political stuff in the blogging communities, I'll leave that one alone for now. Maybe one day.. you know.. that is if you don't beat me to it. But then, since I don't race, I guess you automatically get to be first.



Jen, not the same family at all. The only way I would say that is competitive is if you feel you have to be "better" than someone else or that you have to take something from someone else for your own goals. Then.. then.. we'd have to disagree strongly.




Julie Pippert said...

I think as humans we have an inherent sense of competition that is fostered across the board in the US culture. Pros and cons to this.

As with everything---a philosophy only cemented through learning to be a parent---I believe without positive outlet, the sense of competition will seep negatively into every area of life.

I like sports, with controlled rules of usually healthy competition. We joined a soccer league called Fun Fair and Positive, and while it might be a little over the line in reaction and a little silly, I'd rather err to this side than the other. At each game every parent signs a form agreeing to only be positive and encouraging, not to rag on kids (their own or others) and to remain sportsmanlike in conduct (with no nasty comments about other team or egging on of superiority or inferiority).

Yesterday, being a Total Soccer Mom, I sat and was fantastically entertained by the game. You could tell the kids who cared (one girl, three boys, with the girl about three miles ahead of the boys, intriguingly) and the ones who did not (who would go home and say the best part of the event was the dragonfly that buzzed around his head while the soccer ball sailed into the goal past him four times). Then the ones in between, like my daughter, who wanted to kick the ball and help her team, but didn't want to be in the key position of in charge of scoring.

It was an interesting insight.

And so is your post.

I agree in theory with a lot of what you say.

But I also feel differently about it, perceive it differently.

I think that while some people do seize the power to validate themselves, I think others simply receive it by virtue (no heavy meaning intended) of being more.

IMHO there are limited resources. All things, and all people, are not equal, and neither are our goals.

Therefore, things will always, IMHO, fall on a spectrum, a range.

This is where Gwen's POV about accepting mediocrity comes in handy.

I don't have what it takes to be Great. I've met and known people who do and I'm not like them. That doesn't make them better, just more.

IM-VERY-HO, humans as they are now---and I do so strongly believe it to be heavily influenced by inherent desire---will compete for a bigger piece of the pie, will consider others as opponents for resources. I don't judge it as right or wrong, just as is. I do weigh where I fit into it.

I am not rat race material. I just am not. I do not have the make up for it period.

So, I live over here. Do my thing.

And...realize I haven't completely figured it all out yet.

I have figured out I don't really care where I fall in comment line up, LOL. ;)

Using My Words

Anonymous said...

I find a paradox in what you write here about competition, and all the awards that you like to give or receive in your blogosphere. I already told you how American it sounded to me, the habit of congratulate : such-a-good-girl-good-job thing ( now being critical, it is just cultural, a different approach. I even suggested once, as a joke, to give a award for the best commenter, to what you replied that everyone was worthy, and later that you didn't find my humor fun...You will say that your awards don't prevent anyone to participate, they don"t eliminate people. Yes they do. You had to select your thinking bloggers for example, to have nominees and then to choose between them...So, yes, there was, there is a contest in your blogosphere. Being not speaking your language I am a happy outsider.

hele said...

When I did my essay on motivation I read an article on academic motivation. The writer talked about two motivations. The motivation to learn and the motivation of not wanting to appear incompetent.

Realizing that I am the second has made me work on becoming the first. The change of mindset has opened many new doors for me.


thailandchani said...

Julie, I remember Gwen's post on that topic.. and I also remember a few of yours. We do perceive it differently... but that's okay. What would be the point of these discussions if we agreed on everything? :)


Genevieve, I am going to disagree in one respect. Just recently, I had an offlist discussion with someone (not American) that touched on the very thing you mention... praising others. If others are uplifted and encouraged by praise, it can matter. The person who wrote to me brought that to my attention, how it feels to *not* be praised, and I think she made some very good points. (She comments here and if she chooses to address her points, she will. If not, it's not mine to do.) At any rate, I don't see that as competition. What's wrong with telling someone that what he or she does matters ~ or that you get pleasure from it?

As for the awards, well, you already know my feelings on that. I've written about it here extensively.. have even vacillated a time or three. Right now I am in a "no awards without total inclusion" phases which is subject to change if I see a need to do it another way at another time.

Part of me believes that when dealing with people from a particular culture that it is important to "speak their language" in terms of customs. So, yes, sometimes I pass along the awards because it will be meaningful for the person I pass it along to.. or not.. either way.

Overall though, I don't see anything inherently wrong with praise as long as it is not obsequious praise generated solely for manipulation or self-interest. Praise based on legitimate enjoyment or appreciation is certainly not a bad thing




Sarah said...

Just some musings, feel free to dispute or add on...

It seems to me that it's only relatively recently in the history of man that living cooperatively has even been possible. As you have written here, cooperative living depends on the availability of sufficient resources. For so many millenia, there simply haven't been sufficient resources. Darwin coined "survival of the fittest" for a reason; survival was of necessity at the expense of others.

So try as we may to overcome that legacy, it's got to exert influence to a lesser or greater extent on our behavior. It's built in.

Some (perhaps those of us who are more enlightened) are able to overcome that instinctive drive to survive at the expense of others; some are not. You are mindful that we live in a society of abundant resources; many who live in the same society are not mindful of this fact.

I'd predict that in a society with abundant resources, people would eventually evolve to live cooperatively and communally. But that's the key: eventually.

I apologize for the length of this.

thailandchani said...

Hel, I would love to read your essay. :) (I always appreciate them.) When I was in college, I seemed to be basically unaware of what anyone else was doing. I just wanted to learn as much as possible so that I could understand the world around me which seemed inexplicable at the time.

I don't know what the second is like exactly.



thailandchani said...

SM, I'm happy for the length. The only thing I would dispute is that in the majority of the world's cultures, the scarcity mentality is not present. They do live cooperatively and have for many generations.

Example: Margaret Mead's studies. Competition was simply not found in Native American culture (Zunis and Iroqouis), the Bathonga in South Africa, the Inuit in Canada, the Tangu in New Guinea, even in some parts of Mexico. I've deliberately not mentioned any Eastern cultures. These are all Western.

So.. I would have to strongly dispute that competition is natural, "human nature" or any of those other key phrases used in the social engineering programs here.

The data simply won't support it. :)



heartinsanfrancisco said...

The Native American societies were nearly all cooperative, and in some of them, there is not even a word for "mine" as all the resources of the community and world were shared.

In fact, it was this spirit of inclusivity that led to their eventual downfall at the hands (and guns) of conquerers who held a scarcity mentality and operated from a sense of greed. If the Native Americans had not fed the Pilgrims (with many variations,) they would not have been betrayed by those they sought to help and to make welcome in their world.

Personally, I have never quite understood the need for competitiveness, as we are all the very best Ourselves possible. Would that it were enough for us.

SUEB0B said...

Here is a story that I think encapsulates it: Long-Handled Spoons.

I don't like competition and never have. When I feel myself getting proud over "winning" over someone else, I make myself give my winnings away or try to pay them back in some way.

Speaking in vast generalities, I find that men are more comfortable competing in overt ways, and women in more subtle ways. I think it is because our society tells us it is ok for men to brag on themselves, but women are supposed to keep it under wraps (though I think this is changing). But many women, even in what seems to be non-competitive situations, will try to let you know that you are somehow below them, or aren't happy until they have put you there.

I am thinking of an all-woman party I went to where women were telling more and more extreme tales of their fanatical housekeeping..."Yes, I mop my kitchen floor on my hands and knees three times a week and dry it with clean white diapers." I couldn't help myself. I said "Wow, I never clean anything unless something is knocked over and leaking."

Anonymous said...

The problems start when competition stops being a challenge to the become the best we can be and degenerates into a quest to Just Win.

One example: Karl Rove is on the record as saying all he wants is 50%, plus one- and just look what that philosophy has done to our country.

flutter said...

The spirit of competition or the competitive spirit as put forth by the Greeks for the Olympic games, has always been the way that I choose to see competition.

Competition is meant to inspire the spirit to work towards its own shining best and to encourage that same goal in others

crazymumma said...

As a rule I am not a very competitive person. But I think the arena of sport is an amazing place for those who are competitive.

Its not all bad, I hate how corporate sport has become, but as a parent, I love watching my kids, and their friends running and playine, sometimes competeing, just for the joy of it.

Snoskred said...

Cecilieaux - I'm like Mr Darcy. My good opinion once lost is lost forever. I used to read your blog, for a good six months there. Then you started treating people in Chani's comment section like your own personal punching bag, and I unsubscribed. Seeya, wouldn't wanna be ya.

What lesson can you learn from this? That your readers will leave if you choose to act in a manner they don't like. I doubt you care to change, but at least you now know why some of your posts have no comments - in order to have people comment you have to create a community and treating people without respect can't do that.. what it creates is dislike and a feeling that you want nothing to do with the disrespectful person.

If I know this at the young age of 32, I would imagine you know this VERY well at your age, and you simply choose to act that way. As Dr Phil would say "How's that working for ya?" - I imagine there must be some kind of payoff for you, or else you wouldn't do it. Enjoy your payoff and good luck with that.

Chani - this is another example of a toxic person. I'm sorry he seems to have latched onto you.


Snoskred said...

Of course, that's my opinion. I should have mentioned that. ;)


Unknown said...

I don't like competitive sports. They involved someone 'winning' so that they can feel good about themselves but for this to happen, someone has to 'lose' and feel not so good about it. I used to be involved in sports and I could never understand how some of the girls I went to high school with would actually cry over the outcome of a friggin' basket ball game that they weren't even playing in. I have been in work situations where someone tried to set things up as competition. I usually just went about my business and let them do what they wanted. If I wanted something, I'd put some effort into getting it but I never saw myself as taking away from someone else to do it. The same thing if someone else goto what they wanted as long as it was all above board.

Competition is created by the idea that there isi not enough. We all have enough and we all are enough if we just ralize it.

Catherine said...

Interesting thoughts...I'm still thinking....

Anvilcloud said...

Sounds like the kind of thoughts that led to a certain political system that didn't work out very well. Win-win seems like a good approach. Competition implies that somebody loses.

painted maypole said...

i agree that competition and it's "benefits" are highly overrated, yet I must confess that I really enjoy winning a game of cards. (yet I also enjoy losing if the game is fairly and funly played)

Jen said...

First, I like how you think. For the most part, your post really resonates with me.

But I have to add that I am really competitive with myself. I see the things I've done, and I want to do better, and that is a huge motivator for me (I love goal lists, oh how I love them). So for me, I am my own "Jones" - but instead of keeping up with others, I always want to beat myself. Make sense?

Ron Davison said...

Wonderful - someone else advocating Alfie Kohn!

Even in sports, though, we tend to focus on the competition and overlook the cooperation. The game is only possible because players cooperate on setting and respecting rules and goals.

Much of the love for competition seems to come, too, from the inability to appreciate the importance of intrinsic motivation. Anyway, I'm rambling and just wanted to say thanks for your post.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry, I have not been clear. Of course, praise matters, no doubt (except when they are obsequious,as you say, and that no criticizing is allowed, at the risk to look like the bad boy amongst a court of good girls).

But about to be the winner(s) of awards, that is contest, competitions that you seem to disagree with, when at the same time you encourage awards of any kind.

niobe said...

Competition causes me so much stress that I can't even enjoy the simplest board game because I both hate to win and hate to lose.

Of course, I picked a career where winning and losing is pretty much (though not entirely) everything and that doesn't bother me a bit.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your kind words at my blog.

I don't care much for competition and have successfully avoided it for the most part in my life. I used to be a teacher and the thing that really wore on me in that job (well, there were many actually) was the competitive nature of the entire school culture. It's embedded deeply in schools and I imagine it must be so stressful for so many kids.

Aliki2006 said...

I would agree with flutter here--I think that when competition brings out one's drive to achieve and push oneself, then it can be a good and commendable thing. When it involves the belittling of others--not so good.

thailandchani said...

Cecilieaux, I just re-read this stream of comments and I didn't make something clear that I should.

I was chuckling at your obvious ridicule of competition, the idea that we should race to be the first commenter, etc.

However, I didn't appreciate the poke at Snoskred. She has a right to comment here without being verbally assaulted. Please refrain from that kind of thing here. That isn't what this space is all about.

Please. No pokes at other commenters. There's enough hurt in the world. Why contribute to even more?

Thanks for your understanding.



Christine said...

wow--everything that could have been said has been said!

flutter and aliki basically said how i feel. for example, i love to run in competitive races. of course i'd love to run faster and place in the competition, but i do it as a way to push myself and see what i can do. it is a gage of my own personal strengths and capabilities not a way to judge others abilities. and my winning or loosing doesn't mean i am a better or worse person then another runner.

LittlePea said...

Like many here, I'm not one for competition either. I'm just not cut throat enough and wouldn't want to be. But competition can be good in certain circumstances. In my teens, I belonged to an organization that raised money for a local animal shelter. One way we tried to raise money was to sell t-shirts. I was in charge of the bookkeeping for that particular fund raiser. I proposed a friendly competition: whoever sold the most, I would buy that person a t-shirt. We raised a good amount of money because everyone got silly about it and wanted a free t-shirt. They were $10.00 so it's not like no one participating couldn't afford it. It was just something we all believed in so the competitive spirit was a good one. No one felt like a loser because each had a part in it, big or small.

KC said...

I think competition in general is not all bad- it can lead to innovation, creativity, fair prices....

Liv said...

"My primary point is that I believe competition leads to stress, disrupts families, ruins friendships and turns nearly every human experience into an exercise in trophy-gathering instead of something joyful or unifying."

Yes, my dear. I am proof of that.

dmmgmfm said...

I had forgotten how competitive I can be until this weekend when we were playing Outburst and Taboo. I scared myself I got so in to it.

Anonymous said...

I have always preferred "solo" activities over team activities, simply because I enjoy competing with myself but not with others.

I do like to succeed in the things that matter to me, but over time I have learned that what matters to me may be a lot different than what matters to others. Acceptance is much more meaningful to me than winning.

Anonymous said...

I've been away from here for a week and look at all you've written!! I have read it all, if not commented.

Competition -- I am quite non-competetive, which is a drawback in many things - not just sports. Board games, job searches, and -- I imagine -- selling the book. My lack of interest in proving I am better than others makes me a lousy seller. So, I think there is a time and a place for competition, even if I never seem to do it right...

Cecilieaux Bois de Murier said...

You are such an effing hypocrite, Chani, it's amazing! I stuck up for you when Snotred was stepping on your last nerve and lecturing you ad nauseam. You want to make nice with her? Fine. But you don't get to dress me down. Bye.

Angela said...

As with the others, in general, I agree. I think that people with similar views on competition should hang out together and that way there would be fewer hurt feelings and toes that are stepped on. I do end up feeling fairly competitive at games but try to keep it to myself. It's a rush for me, though -- a rush I kind of like. (Oh, and if I were a race car driver -- I would like that rush, too.)