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On Your Mark

Competition is not merely a human phenomenon. In the animal kingdom, a male competes for his mate with various displays of color, strength, or originality. Plants also compete with each other for ideal soil or sunlight. Sometimes it means the loss of a life but nevertheless, competition will always remain a part of the natural world.

The earliest hominids no doubt competed with each other for food and shelter. Fast forward a few million years and humankind continues to take competition to new levels. Where it appears most apparent is in the realm of athletics. Records are perpetually being broken in every sporting venture and the human body both physically and mentally is continually being pushed to unbelievable achievements.

Imagine watching a sporting activity where competition was not allowed. No opponent was present to challenge its rival and the rules specifically banned any semblance of a contest from taking place. The sport would not be worth watching.

However, the need to win frequently spurs a reckless competitive spirit which does nothing to encourage innovation but rather sabotages and denies others fair access for their chance to win.

In sports, the saying, “It’s not cheating if you don’t get caught,” is a common mantra. Referees and umpires are employed to catch those abusing the rules. But when it comes to industry, the more a company follows this mantra, the less regard it has for laws, fairness, and even less respect for personal integrity.

It’s understandable that companies want to have an edge over their competition. But scheming to create that advantage with unfair or unlawful tactics will ultimately cause more damage to what the competitive spirit was designed to create.

The winner

The 100-meter dash is arguably the most prestigious footrace of all. The winner of this event in the Olympics is often crowned the fastest human alive. It’s a remarkable title held currently by the world-renowned sprinter, Usain Bolt. He broke the record for this event in 2009. Speculating when that record will be broken is anyone’s guess, but is there any shadow of doubt that one day it won’t be broken?

When that day finally arrives, will that nullify or diminish all of Bolt’s hard work, dedication, and memorable victories? Will his memory be wiped away because he is no longer deemed the fastest human?

One does not need to be a sports enthusiast to know the name of the first human to break the four-minute mile was. Since that day in 1952, over 1400 people have managed to break that barrier. However, not one of them has or will ever be able to erase Sir Roger Bannister’s original achievement.

There is an unfortunate deception that some believe competition unwittingly promotes and that is there is only one winner and everyone else is a loser. This is not only a total distortion of truth but also a bold attempt at shaming others to believe their efforts were an utter waste of time.

Throughout its entirety, civilization has often considered winning the only alternative. History tells us the citizens of Ancient Rome were entertained by gladiators who fought to the death; the ultimate definition of only one winner.

But this crude form of entertainment is not relegated only to the era of Caesar and his kingdom. Buzz Bissinger, the author of “Friday Night Lights” – a book about a Texas high school American football team – documented tragic stories how many teenagers were unable to cope with the overwhelming feeling of losing. In one interview he talked about a 17-year-old boy who in the prior season, had a record-breaking year. During the beginning of his final year, he had a season-ending injury. Many in that town were disappointed, and one person even commented, “You know what they do with horses that get injured, don’t you?”


As with so many honorable human characteristics, what sabotages these qualities are the humans who were meant to prosper by them. We are the ones who invent slogans like, “Second place is first loser” or other shame-ridden quotes attempting to make us feel horrible if we are not the sole victor.

This year, New York City will host 33,000 entrants in what is likely the world’s largest Marathon event. Many of them are professionals and some will be first-time participants. The goal of the latter is exclusively to finish; not one of them expects to win. Their victory is crossing the finish line, and no one will ever take that winning feeling from them.

It is we humans who distort the concept of competition by adding our own selfish and desperate demands to its definition.

Smart business tells us we should be aware of our competition and out maneuver them to maintain an advantage. But when we deceitfully, immorally, or illegally plot against them to gain the upper hand, what makes that different from the man who suggested taking the young football player out to the pasture and shooting him?

It doesn’t need to be a dog-eat-dog world. What makes it so are the conniving people who spend more time desperately sabotaging others with no regard for the damage their desperation conceives. Their rise to the top has been infiltrated and influenced by the idea that any other spot is a “loser.” The notion of playing fair is a “sucker’s” game and their arrogance is fed by all their ill-gotten gain and illegitimate power.

Cooperation is often a remedy to the narcissism derived from a vain idea of competition. By nature, it demands an attitude of unity and requires collaboration. It highlights the entire team rather than simply an individual. Although it may appear to damage one’s ego, it has the potential to empower many additional lives. What may appear as a sacrifice will promote more good than any one person is likely to accomplish.

We can all do our part in promoting healthy competition and the healthier spirit of cooperation by not believing the competitive lie or rooting for those who do get caught in its web. The challenge for many is overcoming the selfish desires to scheme, connive, or conspire against anyone who are fairly and scrupulously be passing them on their way to the finish line.

My thanks to Serghei Trofimov on Unsplash for the wonderful picture and I look forward to your comments.

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