A competitive nature is as necessary to human wellness as is food, sleep & exercise. It is the driving force that challenges us to generate the power necessary to meet our intrinsic needs. It cannot be denied that without some level of internal competitive drive, our very survival would be at risk.
The idea of harmony co-existing with competitiveness seems to be the ultimate contradiction. Yet, a healthy level of competitiveness is the very thing that drives an individual to achieve greatness. At the same time, an unhealthy level of competitiveness spawns destruction and conflict, which allows for only minimal short-term gains. Learning how to support and encourage each other while competing for the same or similar goals allows for greater rewards in the long run.
Prestige & Competitiveness:
Prestige can be defined as, “the kind of honor, awe, or high opinion that is inspired by a high-ranking, influential, or successful person or product.” Most people achieve some level of satisfaction or disappointment from changes in their success rate (prestige). Higher levels of success will result in higher levels of prestige, while lower levels of success result in a decline in prestige. How an individual responds to a decline in prestige may vary considerably; from withdrawal and a lack of motivation to increased motivation and more actions taken to rebound from the perceived decline. Conversely, individuals may respond to increased prestige in various ways, from a humble attitude or an arrogant sense-of-self. Interestingly, both increases or decreases in prestige have the potential to generate higher levels of aggression. It is here that I make the connection to how prestige can affect the competitive nature of individuals.
A competitive nature and the idea of prestige in and of themselves are glorious human traits that become “unhealthy” when individuals add the aggressive trait to it. Unhealthy competitiveness results from an excessive concern with one’s status within the groups (e.g., family, work, athletics, etc.) that a person is in relationship with. Prestige then manifests itself as an over-sense of importance and the need to separate oneself from others in an effort to feel superior. When this happens, group cohesiveness and support declines due to an over-emphasis on personal gain that can deter individual’s from seeing the big picture. A decline in “big-picture” thinking results in desperate behavior and a “win-at-all-costs” perspective; causing one to forget that excessive immediate gains won’t necessarily continue over time. Sometime down the road, the inevitable result is a “crash” in success and so prestige, which causes the cycle of desperateness to repeat itself. And so you have a series of expensive gains and excessive losses with very little stable growth. And it is stable growth that should be insisted upon; the bi-product of healthy competitiveness.
The causal elements that influence the human need to have status are many and difficult to pinpoint. Yet, there are four very basic causal points that are worth mentioning to help us succeed in our quest for healthy competitiveness. The first could be defined as the basic characteristics of the person or the innate tendency/drive that all humans have to better themselves and their circumstances. Each person has different levels of this drive that effect how they go about creating more for themselves and others. The second could be defined as the values of others who grant prestige. By “others” I mean the social beliefs of society and its participants; e.g. parents, governmental policy, religious beliefs, social norms, etc. The third could be defined as the considerations that are reflected upon prior to the efforts that are made to affect prestige. The fourth could be defined as the actual choices that are chosen following the reflective process. These four points must be challenged and deeply understood to ensure that competitiveness is put in check and balanced so as to create the most beneficial long-term effects. The bottom line is that an obsession with prestige is costly and leads to rigidity and an unaccommodating nature. To off-set the negative outcomes of this obsession, a ‘checks and balances’ system much be implemented. First and foremost, such a system would include teaching individuals how to understand the negative tendencies of their thinking and how to make more valuable choices based on this reflective process. Once this is done, a collective consensus on how to prevent unhealthy competitiveness should be decided upon and outlined in detail. This is the easiest part; the difficulty is assisting individuals to obtain a deep inner resolve to implement consistently the approved upon choices. Also, when each player has a say in determining the rules, they feel more connected to them and will find it be easier to follow them.
Violence & Competition:
When violence becomes a part of competitiveness between individuals and groups, it usually results from a lack of rationality among the players or the inability of the players to observe the determined rules. There are many ways to prevent competition from becoming violent.
1. Increased Number of Contests: If losing one contest means losing them all, violence is more likely to occur. When there are numerous contests available for the “ego” to involve itself with, then the emotional (prestige) investments are reduced because there isn’t just one chance to win. The contestant knows that there are a number of opportunities to win and do not develop a “scarcity” or “desperate” inner state. Only an ego-mind with its arrogant and narcissistic tendencies would need to have just one winner. And so our understanding of competitiveness needs to shift from “outcome-based” to a “process/development” model. If I might use a cliche, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you played the game.”
2. Ranking of Contests: It is important that no one contest be considered the most important and all the others marginal. This will likely lead to some victories for most people involved, which also makes the loss of other contests easier to swallow. The idea of there being only one winner and one loser is eliminated, allowing for the “losers” to more often enjoy the success of others. In addition, points should be give for how well the contest is played. Are the individuals involved fair, respectful, supportive, etc. Thus, in this type of contest, a person or team who has the lower amount of “points” could still win the game. And so the one-dimensional element of a win/lose contest almost seems laughable.
3. Range of Victory: Needing to win every single race also doesn’t bode well for non-violent competition. Even if there are numerous contests to win, individuals need to challenge themselves to resist the “total victory” urge. A need to be victorious every time and the desire to obtain a total status advantage signifies a disrespect of others’ capabilities or an unwillingness to acknowledge the potential existence of other “winners” or “power houses.” This also prevents individuals from gaining mutual-respect for those that they are up against. And it is with mutual respect that a person’s humanistic nature can flourish. Where is it written that you can’t deeply be connected to and care about those that you are up against. Yet, this would seem to be a very foreign concept in today’s society. Finally, a heart-felt respect for your competitors fosters a humble attitude and eliminates the need to feel important.
4. Rethinking Time: Every leader must encourage her/his players to always remember that they will get another chance to redeem themselves if they were not on the receiving end of a victorious competition. This also enables the “losers” to take it with some pride and hopefulness. This correlates to the need for many potential victories; time offers new chances and potentials for success. Losing in one area can always be turned into a victory at another time. This also reduces the psychological investment of a particular contest. Without this type of perspective, the opponents success could seem to threaten the very existence of the other side. To be competitive, there needs to be a high level of specialization, consistent successes, and the exploitation of all available resources. And what happens when all the available resources have been exhausted and the outcome is still less than desired. You wait for the next time you’ll get to compete.
As you can see, competition has many levels and affects individuals in many different ways. It is ultimately about increasing the fortune of people in terms of income, standard of living and quality of life. All of these things are threatened when a healthy level of competitiveness is not present. Understanding that there must always be an abundant of opportunities to succeed for everyone is the first step to creating harmony within the confines of competition. Finally, a balance of the four value systems (hard work, wealth, social participation, & self achievement) will prevent aggression from reeling it’s ugly head while we engage in our contests and pursuits!
Information from this newsletter were assisted by two articles:
“International Prestige, Competition and Peaceful Coexistence,” Amitai Etzioni
“Competitiveness of Nations: The Fundementals,” Stephane Garelli