The Unnecessity of Competition
Ever since I was a little girl, I've been a sucker for stories. I understand the world through anecdotes and narratives, learn vicariously through other people's experiences and tales.
One of the stories that had quite an impact on me and I still recall vividly is about Desmond Tutu South African Anglican cleric and a theologian. . While trying to study social behaviour, he interacted with a bunch of tribal children.
He proposed a game to them wherein he would place a basket of fruit beneath a large tree and the kids would have to race to it. The winner could have it all.
Now before I tell you the rest of it, let's picture this in a traditional schooling system. Imagine the pride and appreciation a child is conditioned to feel upon beating peers to place first in any competition.
We've all been there, carrying that victorious glory upon our underdeveloped shoulders while flaunting a win.
Guess what those African children did?
They held hands and all walked to the basket together, ultimately splitting the prize amongst them all.
Tutu was baffled. He wanted to understand why. One of the children explained to him that a value they all hold close is ubuntu, or the essence of being human. If one of them was happy while the rest were sad, the winner wouldn't really be able to enjoy himself free of guilt, would he?
It's easy to buy into the idea that competition is healthy and a necessary trait to be successful in life. Yet, competition is premised on the zero-sum game; for someone to win, another must lose.
Living in a world where we're obsessed with "success", everything is a competition- from the grades we get in school, to the jobs we end up at, and even our vacation and social media lives are up for ranking.
I'll admit it, I've felt a twinge of jealousy when I scroll through Instagram and see people travel to places on my bucket list that I'm not even close to visiting.
Yet, I'm able to quell that instinct by rationalizing that my journey is different from theirs; just because they get to see the aurora borealis at this very instant doesn't mean it will dampen my experience of it.
Here's the thing- there's plenty of success to go around for everybody.
Like Stephen Covey says in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we need to reorient our attitude towards an "abundance mentality" rather than one of scarcity.
Covey says that competitive instincts arise from the idea that the pie of life is finite, there's only so much that can go around, so you want the biggest slice for yourself.
But that also means there's lesser for those around you. It is this unhealthy competition that manifests itself in the stark inequalities in the world.
Instead, living with an abundance mentality means recognizing that there's more pie in the fridge and we all get a share, so there's no need to clobber.
Constant competition can be exhausting. Trying to outdo somebody else at every juncture not only piles on the stress, it can also make us very mean human beings and undermine interpersonal relationships.
Sure, wanting to do better is a positive motivator that can help us get ahead, but the journey is uniquely ours to define. Honestly, life isn't a race. There's no single tangible prize waiting for us at the end of it. We've all got our personal wins to celebrate that doesn't have to line up with others'.
So, the next time you see someone do well, instead of disappearing down a rabbit hole of self-loathing and intense comparison, cheer for them. And watch that ricochet back to you in times of personal victories.
Aashika is a trained financial journalist, currently a freelance writer, part-time poet, and a full-time dreamer. Her interests vary from artificial intelligence to minimalism and sustainability; she enjoys exploring new areas to speak and write about.
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