We often hear people proudly exclaim, I’m a competitive person! Just what does this mean? Do those who say this really know what it means?
Competing means one is striving to gain advantage over another who is similarly striving through the same activity. Clearly then, exclaiming that you are a competitive person means that you are one who demonstrates a tendency to seek gain over that of another.
Many even argue that we humans are competitive by nature. Consequently if this were so, then everyone would be competitive and there would be absolutely no point to claiming I’m a competitive person—just as it would be pointless to claim I am a breathing person.
Though we aren’t competitive by nature, one thing we can say is that the nature of egocentric people is to seek to gain advantage over others. More so than those whose focus has evolved beyond one’s own selfish concerns toward having selfless concern for others. After all, the ego is focused primarily, if not solely, on what’s in it for ‘Me’—one’s I-We nature has not been acknowledged.
If I’m a competitive person then it is reasonable to assume that my relationships with others would tend to be contentious, since others would be viewed as rivals on some level. Since most of us do have non-contentious relationships with others and we show genuine care and concern for others, then being competitive doesn’t appear to be our basic nature.
So If It’s Not Just Our Nature Then What Is It?
It is a story told by the uninformed. It is a story we swallow whole without giving it critical thought. It is a story we use to inform us how to organize and manage our organizations and societal systems. It is a story by which we have been sold down the river—one that betrays us all the time!
The assumptions that competition brings out the best in all of us and that we perform better when the context is competitive are not facts but fallacy—No Contest by Alfie Kohn explains the research in support. What’s more efficient and effective than competition? Collaboration, cooperation, working together! Striving to do your best work and striving to beat another are two entirely different things. Embracing the challenge to improve and clinging to the thought of beating out another are just not the same.
So what are those who proudly assert their competitive nature communicating about themselves? What are those seeking to reform education saying when they state they want to improve our children’s competitiveness? Clearly they are merely swallowing whole the story told by the uninformed. Hence I suspect they really don’t know!
What we should be teaching is Coopetition not Competition. There is nothing wrong with striving to be and do your best, as long as you understand that at the end of the day, school year or season there will be one “winner” and everyone else is a “loser”. Professional sports leagues are the epitomy of coopetition. For example, the NBA teams all agree at the beginning of each year that they will play a whole season and playoffs and at the end there will be only one champion and the rest are “losers”. This creates a great product.
There is competition between the teams but cooperation within the league.