Discussion Question: Is competition inhumane?

What’re some other ways to say “competition”?
What are the benefits of competition?
What are the disadvantages?

What is praise?
What is humiliation?

What makes you want to do work?
What makes you want to be your best?
What do you need to do your best work?
What is ‘motivating somebody’?
What motivates you?
What tends to discourage you from doing things you want to do?
What tends to encourage you to your best work?
What tends to encourage you to be your best self?

What is ‘getting ahead’?
What does ‘competitive’ mean in these sentences.
“Some say women aren't aggressive and competitive enough for the sport.”
“We need to make our company more competitive.”
“Competitive prices”
“Easy Scholarships and Grants - Success in Today's Competitive World “
“competitive disadvantages”

Do you feel good when you win?
How do you feel when someone else wins?
How do you feel when other people lose?
How do you feel when you yourself lose?

What makes you feel accomplished?
Do you feel good when someone praises you?
Do you feel accomplished when you have a lot of certificates or qualifications?

What does ‘a job well done’ feel like?
What does ‘successful’ feel like?
What does ‘competition’ feel like?
What does ‘cooperation’ feel like?

Does competition really ensure good quality and low prices?
Are there other ways to ensure good quality and low prices?
Are good quality and low prices always a good idea?

What’s the most effective way to motivate people to work together?
What’s the most effective way to motivate people to get work done as individuals?
Is competition an effective way to create teamwork?

What are the qualities of a successful person?
Does ‘getting ahead’ = ‘success’?

Agree or disagree?
"Competition is part of human nature."
"Competition is more productive."
“Competition is more enjoyable."
"Competition builds character."

Excerpt 1:
1. Now, when I first began to research this talk, I went to the library and punched in "competition." Here are some of the titles that came up: Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, Out Sell, Out Manage and Out Motivate and Out Negotiate Your Competition. Here is my favorite: How to Work the Competition into the Ground and Have Fun Doing It. (group laughter) Here is one that is actually a little sad, Teen-Age Competition, A Survival Guide. Many of these books and articles assume that competition is good for us or that it is our natural way to be or that we really don't have any choice but to compete. That is how completely enmeshed our society is in competition.

2. If you can imagine a spectrum of competition, at one end are societies that function without any competition at all, and at the total opposite end is the United States of America. Our entire economic system is predicated on competition. Our schooling trains us to beat others and regard them as obstacles to our own success. Even in our own families, there is rivalry for attention and love and approval. Leisure time is filled with games in which one person or team must defeat another. We can't even go dancing without getting involved in a dance contest.

3. Well, to start we need a working definition of competition. Competition is two or more people trying to achieve a goal that cannot be achieved by all of them. Or, in other words, one person succeeds only if another does not. Now, in our culture, I believe we are taught to compete. Competitive behavior is not the way we want to be. It is not the way we were born. We were born as completely good human beings, wanting to love and be loved and to cooperate and be close to one another. What happens to these loving children as they grow older? Since they are raised in a society where competition is like breathing, they are inevitably hurt by it because competition is antithetical to being close, being loving, sharing, and having fun.

4. First, I would like to cover briefly four myths about competition. Myth number one says that "Competition is part of human nature." This says that we are born to compete. I believe competitive behavior is taught and therefore, cooperative behavior can also be taught. Here is a story that illustrates the point:

5. A U.S. teacher was visiting a British elementary school. He asked the children who was the smartest among them. They didn't know what he was talking about. They had evidently never thought about it. There were no grades, no tests, no gold stars. All stories and drawings were displayed on the walls. This teacher was amazed, and he resolved to return to his U.S. classroom and make it less competitive. He later wrote, "It took three weeks for the changes to emerge. The first was an end to the destruction of each other's work. Later, a spirit of helpfulness began to be common. Finally, there was what I look for as the real measure of success," he said, "Children talking freely to every adult and stranger who walks in, leading them by the hand to see projects and explaining their activities. No longer afraid, suspicious, or turned inward." He said, "These changes developed because we stopped labeling and ranking."

6. Myth number two says, "Competition is more productive." The question really is, "Do we perform better when we are trying to beat others or when we are working with them?" The evidence in the literature is overwhelmingly clear. The answer is, "We perform better when we work together." Now, the key to understanding why competition does not promote excellence is to realize that trying to do well and trying to beat others are two different things. Paying attention to who is winning distracts one from the task at hand. For example, the child who is frantically waving his arm in class to answer a question when he is called on can forget what he was about to say. His focus was on beating his classmates. Someone who runs for president may be a bad choice for the job. A good campaigner does not necessarily make a good executive. They are different skills. Competition is also not productive because, by its nature, it makes people suspicious of and hostile towards one another.

7. In contrast, in a cooperative environment, people feel accepted by others and they feel safe to take risks, to play with possibilities and benefit from mistakes rather than trying to hide mistakes to avoid ridicule. Also, cooperation results in better performance because it is more fun. Competition is a distinct cause of anxiety since in a given competition most people will lose. Competing also promotes a selfish orientation. When we compete we do so out of our concern for our own welfare. If we became concerned about the welfare of a group of people, then cooperation would follow naturally, therefore social change that will benefit all of us can take place only if cooperative action that puts the group first supersedes the quest for individual rewards. This is why keeping workers of different groups pitted against each other in a competitive way is such an effective strategy for maintaining the status quo. Now, Adam Smith, the prime theorist of capitalism, said that "When each person tried to further his or her best interest, each person gained." But as I have pointed out, everyone does not benefit when we struggle against each other for private gain. He was simply wrong because he focused on the individual without considering the effect on the group as a whole. Competition between individuals is damaging to the group and, thus, to most individuals in the group.

8. Myth number three says, "Competition is more enjoyable." Many people defend competition in recreation or in playing sports. Is this justified? Well, the problem here is that if you are trying to win, you are not experiencing true playfulness -- fun, joy, and self-satisfaction. Any activity whose goal is victory cannot be play. "Sports builds character." But it builds exactly the kind of character that is most useful for our social system. From the perspective of those who control the wealth in this country, it is very useful to have people regard each other as rivals. Sports serve this purpose very nicely. If she is on a team, the athlete comes to see cooperation only as a means to victory, to see hostility and even aggression as legitimate, to accept conformity and authority.

9. There is proof all around us that competition is not enjoyable. Do you know people who get really upset when they lose a game? Who get so wrapped up in winning that the game isn't any fun for anyone any more? Trust me. They are not having fun. They are simply doing what they do best. They are competing to win. These types of people cannot imagine that there are alternatives to competitive games. They ask, "How can it be a game if no one wins?" Well, there are lots of examples. There is a version of volleyball called "Bump and Scoot." A player who hits the ball over the net immediately moves to the other side. The objective is to make a complete change in teams with as few misses of the ball as possible.

10. Now the fourth and last myth is, "Competition builds character." For this myth, we have to ask, "Why do we compete?" and Alfie Kohn in his book suggested that, "We compete to compensate for low self-esteem." Of course, we here at the Ethical Society know that self-esteem is not conditional. It does not depend upon approval from others or on winning contests. Despite this ideal, our self esteem may have been injured, to put it mildly, by societal hurts such as competition so it may not be functioning at our ethical ideal. Thus, we might try to be stronger or smarter than others in order to convince ourselves at some level that we are a good person.
So what is the bottom line? The bottom line is since both winning and losing have undesirable effects, it seems clear that the problem lies with competition itself. Competing drags us down, devastates us psychologically, poisons our relationships, and interferes with our performance, but acknowledging those things would be very painful, causing us to confront the road less traveled, perhaps forcing us to make radical changes in our lives. So instead, we create and accept rationalizations for competition, "It is part of human nature," "It is more productive," "It is fun," "It builds character." They are all false.

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