The competition trap

The math is compelling. You’re going to lose most of the competitions you enter. […] Which means that you’re going to be seen and measured by how you lose, not how you win. The way to win is usually to fit in all the way, to give the judges precisely what they want, to train just like everyone else, but harder. But the way to lose with style is to create possibility. To be creative. To do generous work that’s worth talking about.*
(Seth Godin

There are two kinds of competition. One makes the world smaller for most of us, the other makes the world bigger for everyone. One works with limitation, the other with infinity.

I latched on to some words relating to competition in what I was reading this morning, this because of a larger conversation I’m involved in that is exploring the place of compassion in institutions such as government, businesses and universities. There’s no getting away from the cultures of competition in any of these.

I find myself playing with ideas as I seek to understand the significance of competition for humans.

The outcome of competition is a title, a trophy, funding, notoriety – that is, property:

What is at stake here for owners is not the amount of property as such, but its ability to draw an audience for whom it will be appropriately emblematic; that is, an audience who will see it as just compensation for the effort and skill used in acquiring it.**

One kind of competition appears to take place within a finite game (a set number of players, a deadline and play by the rules), the other within an infinite game (everyone one welcome to play for as long as possible and if the rules threaten to exclude or end the game, the rules are changed) – one is a world of scarcity, the other a universe of possibility.

Seth Godin’s opening words consider the paradox for those who win actually narrow their possibilities, while those who lose with style increase theirs.

I’m not saying it always works this way, but it’s worth taking a closer look.

These words from Richard Rohr also caught my attention. You don’t need to be religious to appreciate what he’s saying:

I would name salvation as simply the readiness, the capacity, and the willingness to stay in relationship.^

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Losing with style.)
(**From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(^From Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance.)

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