Spoiler Alert! I may say some things today which you will disagree with. That’s okay, we are not always going to be in agreement. Besides, I’m a grown up, I am able to take criticism and am more than okay with those who disagree with me. I believe the ability to critically reflect on how we feel, what we believe, what we support and pursue are vital to the liviing of our lives.
We live in what can arguably be considered a very competitive world. It feels intentionally inclined that way. Competition is seen by many as an excellent way to encourage growth and achievement. Its hard to argue against growth and achievement, those are great benchmarks we want to pursue. Each of us want to improve our lives. We want to become better at our jobs, in our quest for health and fitness, in the games we engage in. These are laudable goals we can all be on board with.
I have a problem with competition though. Competition can lead to some truly wonderful results for those who succeed. What happens when we compete is our brains release a hit of dopamine that in turn feeds our rewards system. When we compete and imagine winning, our brains react in a very positive manner which encourages our competitive nature. All of this leads to a boost in our performance. There is research in this area which is mixed on the long-term results of a competitive environment. There is a meta-analysis of organizational scandals which implicate competition as a key factor in persons acting unethically. What the studies indicate is when there is intense competitive pressure, those competing have the tendency to lose sight of the moral implications of their behavior. It can become an “I must win at all costs” situation.
Christy Pruitt-Haynes writing for the NeuroLeadership Institute says, “Put another way, if we’re seeing the world through a competitive lens, we’re less likely to see it through a moral one.”
What is weighing my spirit down at the moment is war. War in Ukraine, war in Israel, war in a number of places around the globe. There are 32 ongoing conflicts in the world right now. Wars are started for a variety of reasons, but what comes to my mind as chief among those reasons is competition. Competing for land, resources, power; they all seem to be at the top of the agenda for those engaging in war. Again, competition can lead to an “I must win at all costs” attitude. It may be easier to begin a war than to end one because of this kind of thinking.
John Steinbeck has been quoted as saying, “All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.” “Steinbeck is essentially arguing that war is a reflection of humanity’s inability to solve problems through peaceful means.”
Even though competition can lead to some truly admirable results, it brings with it a nastiness of spirit. A kind of hateful and jeering behavior that leads to a win-lose situation. In a win-lose situation, there is potential for the victor to lack a moral and ethical base.
Its been said, “To the victor goes the spoils.” This refers to the one who wins in a competition, as being the decider of how to divvy up what has been won. Too often in war, the winner gobbles up the resources, punishes the losers, and then writes the history to wipe out any guilt for the consequences.
There has to be a better way my friends. When we learn to collaborate more than compete with one another, we may find a better way for all. “One of the main differences between collaboration and competition is that in collaboration, individuals or groups work together towards a common goal, while in competition, individuals or groups work against each other to achieve their own goals.”
Even though competition can have an effect on the reward centers of our brains, collaboration also can have that effect and more. Pruitt-Haynes says, “Fortunately, competition isn’t the only thing that lights up the reward centers of the brain. In fact, while there are rewarding aspects of competition, collaboration is more rewarding because of the positive social feedback that comes from collaborating with partners, which is linked to orbitofrontal cortex activity, an area of the brain associated with motivation, goal-directed behavior, and reward. Teamwork and collaboration acknowledge and lean into our strong desires for social connections, creating a similar positive neuro response.”
In thinking about the many wars that have been fought, and those currently being engaged in, shifting from a competitive spirit to a collaborative one might find a more positive outcome. We have tried a competitive spirit to bend nations into subservience. What would it look like if we gave collaboration a shot? John Lennon says, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.”
In the scriptures, there are many references to war which talk of how God’s kingdom should be. Psalm 46:9 we read, “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; He breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariot in the fire.” In Isaiah 2:4, “And he shall judge among the nations, And shall rebuke many people: And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruninghooks: Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war any more.” The shift to the kind of world where these scriptures ring true could be achieved not with competition, but with collaboration among peoples and nations.
May God well up in each of us a more collaborative spirit, one seeking the good of all, not what’s good for only us. Make us a peace-seeking people, who want to share all of the resources from God with all who God has made.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,