I’ve always had a difficult relationship with competition. I grudgingly admit that it is necessary in various contexts, but I question the level of importance that is often placed in our society. The ugly side of people often arises, and I believe the stigma of “losing”, keeps many of us from taking risks and challenging our conditioned patterns. We tread the same paths, follow formulas for “winning”, anything to avoid losing the game. I began this post with the intention to make a case against competition, but I can’t in good conscience. Competition can wean out poor ideas in favour of better ones, and also gives us the ability to test our skills against a worthy opponent. In the business sphere, competition allows us a range of products without a monolithic monopoly. Yet I wonder how much energy we waste upon defeating our opponents, and in the case of war and peace, at the cost of human lives. Cooperation seems to be more energy efficient.
Can there be competition without ego?
I’ve been an avid club level chess player for the longest time. I was playing a much higher rated opponent in an online correspondence chess site, and I was grateful since I often don’t get to play such an opponent. Wanting to test my skill, I made highly deliberate moves, always checking for errors, giving this game a greater amount of time for analysis, and seeing how long I could last before he would crush me. I found the game was fairly even after a substantial amount of moves. After a while, my opponent accused me of using a computer to cheat. I assured him that I was not, just giving the game a greater amount of attention that I usually would, but he insisted I was cheating. “Look at your rating”, he said. The game stopped being fun. I told him that and resigned in disgust. I stopped playing chess, a game I love for a few months after that unpleasant incident. I re-contextualized the game in my mind, as two people exchanging puzzles in order for me to have the stomach to play again.
If one wins a game, but loses goodwill, what is really won?
Dallas — The coach of a Texas high school basketball team that beat another team 100-0 was fired Sunday, the same day he sent an e-mail to a newspaper saying he will not apologize “for a wide-margin victory when my girls played with honor and integrity.”(LINK )
There is no honour or integrity in crushing one’s opponents, especially in this case where the losing team is a formed from a school that specializes in learning disabilities. This “victory at all costs” mentality is pervasive, and hard to shake as it even permeates foreign policy, as the pro-war propaganda machine often mocked the voices for peace and restraint as those who didn’t want to “win the war”.
Explorations into competition
I will explore further topics on competition, the next time on professional sports fans, and competition in the context of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, business, science innovations, and ideas (intellectual property) in future posts. There are many examples and expressions when it comes to “The Game”, yet perhaps not enough on whether The Game is worth playing. I will also explore cooperation, and why the concept seems elusive to so many.