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Answer by connecta on 1.20.00 6:05 PM

On Competition

Interestingly, the root of the verb compete is the Latin, "competere," which means, "to strive together." Thus there is an element of "joining" in the the conceptof competition, meaning that on some important levels there coexists cooperation along with the endeavor we think of today as competition.

I think we have in our society gotten carried away with the spirit of competition, to the extent that it, as more than one answerer has already pointed out, pervades all aspects of life. Everything is a game, and, at the same time, some of the games are lethal, with individuals and groups of individuals defining themselves and others as, variously, the good guys and the bad guys, like in cops and robbers, old Ronald Reagan movies, and so on. When competition becomes the defining feature of a society, then something gets lost. That something is goodwill.

The best source I have read lately about this is Deborah Tannen, the sociolinguist, who wrote the book, "The Argument Culture." Even the minutest transaction becomes framed in terms of who is the boss, who is the winner, who is Number One. Every issue is framed in terms of polar points of view, and on the Today Show dialogue is the least likely format one finds. Most people are trained in this thesis-antithesis nonsense at such an early age that they just assume, unconsciously, that it is the only way to live. Turn on the cartoons. Watch Power Rangers.

It is so true that human beings easily regress to the mentality of the baboon dominance hierarchy. In the thirties the Nazis pointed to psuedo-Darwinian theories about natural selection, race and eugenics and concluded that is was only natural for them to be selected, and that might makes right.

Competition as an ideology, as espoused by others who have responded to this KnowPost question, leaves little thought to the kind of levelling humility necessary for a complete self-affirmation. Buying unawares into the American Dream leaves one unfit for the eventual humbling episodes that we all must face on this Earth. Better put competition in perspective. Instead of acrimony and antagonism, the pumped up grandiosity of winning above all, make some room for dialogue. Remember the together part of striving together.

Anyone seriously think it is a good idea, in the long run, for a company to lay off thousands of employees in hopes that this little maneuver is going to make the price of its stock go up? Anyone else see the articles in last week's papers about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer? Can anyone guess what this does to the real quality of everyone's, even the richest's, lives?

We are witnessing the American Way at its worst in the current political campaign, the struggle to be the most important man in the world, in the eyes of us, by jingo. I think the presidential campaign could be the ideal forum for candidates to demonstrate their skills at dialogue, bringing out the best in everybody, instead of attempting to punch holes in the other fellow's point of view in a thoughtless knee-jerk fashion, as is indeed the fashion.. Can you imagine Bill Bradley and Al Gore, or John McCain and George W. Bush, attempting to learn from each other by respectfully making a sincere effort to understand the other man's point of view, socratically unashamed of their own ignorance, rather than arriving at debate time with as much ammunition as can be mustered to shoot down as devastatingly as possible, within the bounds of political correctness, the opponents position?

There are a lot of wise people with wonderful ideas that won't be heard because they are not assertive, and nobody is interested in what they have to say because they are not "important." When dialogue replaces debate as the "in way," then these nobodies will be flushed out and listened to in the emerging process, and their wisdom respected.

I say, lets get rid of the power politics and require everybody to register for service. Not service in the military, but in the United States Congress, where if your number comes up you have to go. Like jury duty. Even if you are in prison, if it is for a victimless crime, you would by law have to come out and serve in the Congress for four years. Don't tell me the inmates wouldn't be as moral or as ethical as those who are monied and aggressive enough to run the gauntlet of "natural selection." You wouldn't be able to buy your way in or buy your way out. While we're at it lets make a law against bribing legislatures. Lobbying would thus be exposed for what it is, a system for big money's bribing legislators. Anyone think thats democratic? Anyone still think democracy is synomymous with capitalism?

Competition is fun, as game. Games have rules, and the rules are changing. When I watched world class tennis players competing in the 1940's they would call their own fouls. If the linesman called a ball out and they could plainly see that it was in, then they would point out evidence that would go in their opponents' favor. When is the last time anybody saw anything like that? Leo Durocher is said to have said, "Nice guys finish last." He won out over Grantland Rice who had previously proclaimed that, "It isn't whether you won or lost, but how you played the game."

I am eagerly looking forward to the remaining games of the NFL tournament, and the Superbowl in particular. I don't think I have missed a single one since Super Bowl I. I think I am detecting more goodwill and respect among opposing coaches and players, a less hockey-like mentality than I have noticed in the past few years. But the fans are a different matter, stretching the limits of what is decent and respectful in pursuit of more home field advantage than anyone ever though was possible.

One last thought: Hurrah for competition. But let's have competition embedded in a huge context of cooperation and mutual respect and good will, and let this shifting attitude permeate the whole of society and all its elements, including marriage and family, political, economic, ethical, academic and athletic.

Answer by brigit on 1.17.00 1:44 PM

on when do you feel humbled?
not nearly as often as my old confessor thought i should...

i feel humbled under the night sky... or under the day sky, if i can make the time to truly look up at it and open myself to ite grandeur...

i feel humbled and, in seeming contradiction, exalted, by the beauty in the world... a leaf, veined and traced in gold, as it dies...

water vapour, assuming such astonishing variety of form, as clouds populate the blue, blue air of winter...
the human voice... whether lifted in prayerful song or a cry de profundis...
a great, graceful, yellow butterfly visiting my backyard in january...

the effort required and sustained for a young man, blind/deaf, with autism and cerebral palsy and cognitive delay to find my arms, my lap, and to place himself into them... the love that emanates from such a soul...and the trust... that truly humbles me.

Answer by connecta on 12.30.99 8:52 PM
Trust is the cornerstone of community. It is on a continuum somewhere between gullibility and paranoia. When people get hurt in relationship there is a tendency to withdraw. After a while the desperation of extreme interpersonal hunger sets in, and a breakout into unwarranted trust. The desperation leads one to pay insufficient attention to the warnings immanent in the behavior of the other person, and again one gets hurt and runs and hides, in the process confirming that it is foolish to trust. It helps to have a circle of acquaintances or a support group, with whom to share problems and difficulties arising in relationships. One can indeed learn when it is safe to be vulnerable, and how to protect oneself from traumatic or depriving relationships. The real question is not whether to trust or not, but how and when to trust whom for what in what context. Relationships that are relatively formal can provide enough safety so that one may learn for oneself the do's and don'ts of hanging out. It is important to resist the quick grab for intimacy and to remain as aloof as necessary, until one begins to get the knack of it all. Perpetual isolation is not the answer. That is what leads to the emotional starvation that deprives one completely of common sense.

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