The Invidious Nature of Competition

Delta Winds cover 2011Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


The Invidious Nature of Competition

Donald Kovis

Since the dawn of mankind, humans have been competing with each other over things such as food, resources, and mates. Often, this competitive drive built into us has caused humans to go to war with one another-killing each other in the process. In the modern era, competition has been significantly tempered in its lethality. Rarely does a conflict arise between two people where the end result is a dead body lying on the ground.

However, competition still has the ability to bring about the worst behavior in many of us. Instances of violence springing forth from trivial rivalries are splashed across newspapers and television nowadays. Indeed, bad behavior resulting from competition seems to be commonplace in today's society. Given that most Western societies thrive off of the competitive spirit found within their populations, it isn't that surprising that some people might go overboard with its application. But while some people state that competition can only have a positive impact on our societies, I believe that the negative aspects resulting from the bad behavior due to competitiveness probably outweigh any good that can be created from competition, given the way it is pushed in today's world.

One of the most obvious negative consequences of the competitive drive is the creation of a loser. In fierce competition, an individual who doesn't measure up to the other competitors can, in the name of competition, be labeled as a "loser." While in the strictest definition of the term this title would apply, there is a certain stigma associated with the word "loser." Due to the bad behavior that is often created from competition, other competitors might begin to taunt and tease the loser. Often, this mocking can become quite vicious, ending in a physical confrontation. Looking back on my high school days, I recall several instances of students getting beat up after class because during physical education they fumbled a football or failed to catch a baseball. Often the effects of a simple mistake out on the field were inconsequential to the outcome of whatever game was being played, but to the other players involved, this mistake was considered more of a sin, a sin that marked them as much as it did the one who committed it. Thus, this justified retribution upon the "sinner." This kind of bad behavior can be very detrimental to society as a whole, creating a class of winners and a class of losers, forever separate from each other.

Another negative result from harsh competition is the "anything to win" mentality. Some people have a complete obsession with winning, occupying every moment of their existence. People such as Donald Trump and Bill Gates exemplify this phenomenon. These two people have clawed their way to the top, hurting many other people who were in their way. In order to get further ahead, they have lied, cheated, and wounded countless rival individuals and companies, all in the name of their greed and desire. They justify this by saying that it is a "dog-eat-dog" world out there, and those who do not play the game will be removed from the sport. While this attitude does have some redeemable qualities, such as the ability to acquire wealth and take care of one's self, it also fosters a socio-pathological attitude towards others. People with this mindset see other people as objects to be used, without giving regard to their feelings and emotions. Sociopaths created due to the competitive spirit of a society are against the best interests of any civilization.

Possibly the most detrimental outcome of over-amped competition is the creation of bitter enemies. As was stated before, sometimes competition between rival sides or individuals can become pathological. Perhaps one team has dealt an overwhelming defeat to another team, emasculating them in the process. Looking like fools in the faces of their peers, this humiliated team wishes to strike back. This tit-for-tat type of rivalry can easily escalate out of control. For instance, in sports this enmity has led to the theft of the opposing team's mascot, to the destruction of the opposing team's property, and to physical altercations with members of the opposing team. A good example of this happened at my high school. In the last football game of my first year in high school, one of the offensive linemen from the other team came too close to the bench, where our offensive line were sitting. One of the guys sitting on the bench stood up and slugged the opposing player with brass knuckles, sending him to the hospital. When asked why he did it, the attacker stated that he didn't know why he did it. At that moment, he just hated his opponent. After considerable contemplation, I believe it was done in the heat of the moment. These two teams had been rivals for a long time, and due to the fierce competition, the desire to strike out against a bitter enemy became too great to control. This kind of bad behavior is repeated in many other ways in our society, often resulting in the violent actions that lead to arrests and convictions in our courtrooms. Obviously, this has a negative impact on our society.

Competition is a natural aspect of human behavior. It helps humanity survive in a relatively cruel world. Competition is responsible for pushing innovation in the fields of philosophy, science, and religion. Without competition, we would be diminished as a species. However, when competition's more negative aspects are ignored, the outcomes will invariably be disastrous. Numerous wars and conflicts can be traced back to expressions of bad feelings brought about by pointless competition, and uncounted tragedies have occurred on the individual level due to bruised egos and damaged pride. In my opinion, structure is the key here. Structure can provide a line in the sand to prevent displays of ego, superiority, or nationalism from becoming excuses to act inappropriately. Structure can also allow for civility to persist between rivals after a competition takes place. Competition needs to be well structured and regulated to ensure the safety of people, and society as a whole.