#102 – Dick Bernard: The Curse of Competition
UPDATE: Note book recommendation from Bob Barkley in comments section.
About a year ago I wrote an Uncomfortable Essay for the Peace and Justice community entitiled “The Curse of Cooperation“. It remains on the web at #mce_temp_url#. Scroll down to Essay #5 for November 22, 2008.
“Featured” in part at the Essay was the before and after of a football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. The Vikings had won that game.
Monday night, October 5, 2009, those same Vikings and Packers played again, again in Minneapolis. The Vikings won again. This time the Game was featured as the game of the week in the NFL – show-cased on Monday night. It was front page in the Tuesday edition of both Minneapolis and St. Paul papers.
There was a substantive difference between the 2008 and 2009 games. This year, Brett Favre, long-time NFL star for the Green Bay Packers and then a year or so with the New York Jets, was coaxed out of retirement to play for the Vikings. There has been great joy in Viking-ville. At the moment the Vikes are 4-0, and the eternal dream of a Super Bowl has once again been ignited in the hearts of Vikings fans everywhere, hopefully enroute to a title they have never won. Favre has been anointed as the Savior. (No question, he is a great player. Monday night he accomplished a goal never reached by any other NFL quarterback: he can some day retire and say that he has defeated every National Football League team at least once in his career.)
There are many contests left to the Big Game, Super Bowl XLIV. But as everyone knows, while skill, and a “star”, helps a lot, it is no guarantee of success; it is only one element of the possibility of success. When the Day comes, two of 32 teams will remain in the competition; only one will survive, and its players will get the sacred Super Bowl Ring, and be Kings for a Day. But we dream on.
Competition is elevated to one of the cardinal virtues in our society. Winners are extolled; losers…. Perhaps we humans are hard-wired to be competitors. In our society, competition is carried to absurd (and, in my opinion, destructive) lengths.
When Super Bowl Sunday ends in Miami, February 7, 2010, there will be one winner…and 31 losers. Every year it is the same. Every September hope will spring eternal again and the cycle will continue. The losers will try to reorganize to become the winners for the next round. But, the next round, there will again be only one winner.
One can dream that there might be a replacement ethic in which working for success for all is a primary virtue. But I doubt I’ll ever see it. We want winners, not success for all, and this translates into sustained competition in all areas of our lives, from the time we are old enough to recognize that one or us is stronger, or weaker, than the other.
The winner always becomes a target; there are always far more losers….
It doesn’t seem like much of a recipe for success to me.
Read “The Case Against Competition” by Alfie Kohn. It was an very profound book for this old football coach to have read and has impacted my thinking ever since.