We live in a competitive world. It’s a dog-eat-dog world where the only rule is survival of the fittest. On the toll road, drivers race to make it first to the tollbooth. At work, people contend for promotions and advancement, climbing over others to get to the top. At school, teenagers strive for higher grades hoping it will result in larger scholarships or better colleges. In the neighborhood, families desire the largest home with the latest furnishings. In relationships, friends compare who went on the most exotic vacation or who has the best golf score. At home, mothers compete with daughters, fathers with son, and siblings with siblings.
Why do people compete?
Inferiority. Some people compete because they feel inferior. And in an effort to erase their lowly stature they challenge everything and everyone in their wake. They have to win because they want something they never achieve. Winning, therefore, becomes a reflection of their identity.
Insecurity. Some people compete because they have deep-seated feelings of insecurity. They are afraid of failure, and because of this fear, they are easily threatened and are thus repeatedly forced to prove themselves worthy. Afraid of losing, they are unable to separate who they are from what they do.
Envy. Some people compete because they want what other people have. It may be tangible, like a position, or it may be intangible, such as a personal quality like self-confidence. Envy always sees and desires what it does not have. Envy is not just wanting what the other person has; envy is wanting the other person not to have it.
Before we go on, let’s take a quick inventory. Do you know some people that are driven by inferiority, insecurity, and envy? Now for a more sensitive question: Are you driven by inferiority, insecurity, or envy?
If so, what are we to do? Here are some suggestions.
Commit to doing your best, not simply beating the other person.
A myth says that competition leads to superior performance. Actually, competition leads to inferior performance. Striving for personal excellence is what produces the best results. Researchers studied two groups of children who were asked to make “silly” collages. One group’s artistic work was judged by a panel of professional artists to be superior to the other. What was the difference between the two groups? The less creative groups competed for prizes. Athletes who pay attention to personal performance goals shoot better and run faster than athletes who concentrate just on beating their opponents. Dr. Janet Spence of the University of Texas found that performance-orientated business executives earned 16 percent more money than those motivated by competition.
The point is that the internal motivation of doing your best is a far more effective incentive than competition. Being the best does not mean being the best, but being your best. Competitors want to be better than everyone else, superior. Being your best is being better today than you were yesterday. Competitors want to exceed the achievement of other people. Being your best means matching your practice with your potential.
I love the story Gene Stallings tells when he was defensive backfield coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Two All-Pro players, Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris, were sitting in front of their lockers after playing a tough game against the Washington Redskins. They were still in their uniforms, and their heads were bowed in exhaustion. Waters said to Harris, “By the way Cliff, what was the score?”
As these men show, being your best isn’t determined by comparing our score to someone else’s. Being your best comes from giving one’s all, no matter the score or the outcome.
Recognize that constructive competition allows room for cooperation and love.
The Latin root of the word competition means “to strive together.” When you compete with an ally, there are no losers.
The key is to look at others and ourselves, discern the various gifts and talents, and to feel secure about who we are and the role and the personhood of the opponent.
Harold Myra, former editor of Campus Life, wrote: “When we were kids, I tackled my brother in a backyard game. Years smaller than he, I grabbed his ankle and rode him 30 yards before I tripped him—Thunk!—into the hard November ground. He looked across at me, surprised. ‘Way to go, kid,’ he grunted—and the rest of that day, I was a tiger!
“Couldn’t competition be like that sometimes, Lord? Admiring the brother who outdoes you . . . but still fighting like crazy to win? . . . I don’t have to hate the guy who beats me—I can admire his ability. Opponents are made in your image too. Yet you live within me, telling me to love, even as I compete—love people, love you, as you loved me and died for me. Help me to take that to the ball field, Lord.”
And, help us to take it to the office, to the classroom, to the neighborhood, and to the home.
Guard against envy.
The horrible and destructive sickness of envy according to Aristotle is “the sin against the brother.” Like Jacob of Esau, and you and me against those closest to us. Envy is felt most keenly by two people of the same age and similar interests. Doctors envy doctors. Lawyers envy lawyers. Preachers envy preachers. Neighbors envy neighbors. The closer the competition to one’s own stature and rank, the higher the stakes and the more likely envy is to erupt.
And when it does. Watch out. It can destroy you. A man in ancient Greece killed himself through envy. The story has it that a city erected a statue to honor the champion athlete in its public games. This athlete’s archrival was so envious that he pledged to destroy the statue. Each night, under the cover of darkness, he would go to the statue and chisel at its base, hoping to make it fall. Finally, he achieved his goal and toppled the statue. His envy had driven him to destruction, not only of the statue, but of himself, for when the statue fell, it fell on him.
The proverb is right: Envy slays itself by its own arrows.
If any competitor, would look to God rather than to others, understanding that God loves and accepts them, recognizing the blessings God has graced them with, it would prevent them from being consumed by competition.