October 6, 2011

the smell of competition...

One of the CleanPlace teens and I got into a discussion last week about competition. I think I rather surprised her when I said that I find little value in it and have never much cared for it. Since she is a rather driven young lady who competes in several things (debate and music competitions), she was trying to convince me of the merits of competition. She pointed out that it can help build character, sharpen skills, and encourage you to be better. For herself, she loves what competition has done in her life.

And while competition CAN do those things for SOME people, I had to point out that it does not do that for a good lot of people. Many of us, if given the chance, decide not to be competitive.

Personally, I dislike competition for several reasons. First off, I find it to be negative. There is one winner and the rest are losers. I don't care what the competition is for, but I would put good money down that those "losers" were often very good at whatever skill it was they were competing in. But because there can only be one (or three, if we go Olympics style judging) winners, the rest must, by definition, be losers. Just because I'm not as good as Judy Jumper at long jump doesn't make me a loser, it just may mean that Judy has longer legs than I do. But how many kids have cried and though something wrong with themselves because they didn't win at long jump or the talent show? Too many.

Second, competition is selfish. You know the old story of the race at a Special Olympics where one of the runners falls down? And all the other runners stop racing and help that one up, and help him or her to the finish line. You know why we all forward that message? Because despite the fact that they are supposed to be competing, these runners set aside the prize for the sake of others. Competition says "me," "my," and "mine". "My team" will crush yours. "The prize is mine." But we were not created to be alone--we were created to live together.

And that brings me to the third point, which is the newest, and came to me after the conversation (as I was reflecting and polishing my thoughts). Competition is, perhaps, unGodly. God did not set it up so that only one person gets to go to heaven. He welcomes us all. God did not say that only the person who prays the best prayer will get to heaven. Nor the person who can speak in the most tongues. God never asks us to be better than any other one of His children--He simply asks us to be the best WE can be.

As I thought more about it, I realized that since God created us each uniquely, that to pit our gifts and talents (yes, skills!) against each other may not be glorifying to Him. He would rather see us each excel in the gift, use it to the extent that He gave it. And since the talents come from Him, we should not lord it over our fellow man if God did not give him the same measure.

My young friend (who was really just enjoying a debate, she does see some of my side, though I'm not sure she will ever agree with it, loving competition as she does) feels that the positive aspects of competition outweigh the negative. I, on the other hand, see other ways in which to get the positive aspects without the negative. I don't need to compete against my fellow writers in order to sharpen my skills--I can work with them in critique groups to polish both their work and mine. I don't need to go head-to-head against a friend in order to learn about their skill--I'd much rather sit down and have them share and teach me. As for the character building that they always say comes with losing, well, life is full of loss. I hardly need competition to hand me that lesson.

So, what do you think? Do you like to compete? Has it been a good or bad experience for you? I'm interested to hear your thoughts!

(Note: I am all up for friendly, goofy competitions like games and silly stuff. It's the serious stuff that I'm more addressing. So yes, I'll crush you at a game of Nertz, but only as long as I know we'll not think the less of each other at the end of it!)


MangyCat said...

I believe the ability to win--or lose--gracefully is the key. Let's face it, Biblical rightness aside, competition is a part of life--whether it is Nertz or a national academic debate.

Winning or losing isn't the issue. The issue is the attitude when one is doing the winning or losing. A graceful attitude in winning and losing can be learned and taught and benefited from through healthy competition.

Sara said...

But I think a graceful attitude can be learned in so many other ways and situations--I'm not convinced that competition HAS to be a part of life. American's have made it such, but just because America does something doesn't make it law :P

MangyCat said...

Well, as you mentioned, there's competion even at the lowest level--in a simple card game. It just can't be avoided no matter what culture you live in.

Can a person avoid official competions such as sporting or academic events? Of course. There's no requirement that says we have to participate in such things. But will we encounter competition of some kind as we interact with other human beings? Of course. It really can't be helped.

We can't control being pitted against other or ourselves or time or whatever at some point or another. What we can control is how we respond to that in our attitude and actions.