Every man is a genius. But if you assess a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its entire life believing that it is stupid – Albert Einstein
Our world is ruled by ratings. We rate the child’s intelligence by his school report card. The A-list rated actor gets more money per appearance than the rest of his contemporaries. Promotion in the office is tied to who brings in the most clients even if they are lousy on the job. The Grammy and the Oscars draw the line between ‘world-class’ musicians and actors respectively. One telecommunication company introduces a package. Another does exactly the same thing a few weeks later as if in a frenetic drive to outshine the other. The church down the road builds a big cathedral. The one next door immediately goes on a fund-raising drive to lay the foundation for a bigger one. We want to ride the posh cars that some of our contemporaries are riding and would give an arm and a leg to get them, even if it means making some dangerous compromises. We play games, not because we enjoy the games, but because we want to win a prize that demonstrates to the whole world that we or our team are better than others playing the game. Or isn’t this why there are championship tournaments?
The word ‘competition’ is one of the most common words in corporate lexicon all over the world. Endless hours of board meetings, brainstorming and strategy sessions are dedicated to competition and how to deal with it, more than time dedicated to enhancing competence and service delivery.
In every area of human endeavor, competition has become a way of life. Even if it is not described as such, it plays out in the family. Parents compete for their children’s affection and children compete for their parent’s attention and approval. Competition is at the root of sibling rivalry. As children enter into school, they are primed for competition. From the kindergarten class, children learn how to outshine one another because there is a prize at stake. End of Year activities that bring students’ parents to school also consist of prize-giving ceremonies that clearly tell parents the gaps of functionality between their children and other children in their school.
In the marketplace, an interminable struggle for market share guarantees that “competitors” act like bloodthirsty sharks at the scent of blood or desperate hind baying at their prey. All kinds of strategies are deployed to corner significant percentages of market share from competition for the sole purpose of becoming the market leader. It is always about who makes the biggest profits in the industry at the end of the financial year. Intra-organizational competition is no less fierce, especially when fueled by unrealistic sales targets. Those who work in the marketing departments of corporate organizations, especially banks, understand the grind more than most. Employee of the Month, Long Service, Loyalty awards are geared towards establishing and perhaps widening the dichotomy between employees in terms of perceived competence. Even though this was designed to get employees to perform better, the result is sometimes counter-productive because it breeds competitive jealousy and is a dampener of team spirit. Instead of emphasizing the team dynamics, workers tend to go rogue, outshine colleagues and even bootlick in an attempt to earn the recognition of the “rewarders” of loyalty and service in the organization.
Religious organizations compete over who builds the biggest buildings, who has the largest congregation, which pastor or Imam rides the poshest car. Since this is an outflow from the rest of society, these parameters become the basis of assessing the social relevance of such religious organizations or leaders. Even when invited to speak at conferences, the honorarium is graded according to the social profile (using the aforementioned parameters) of the preacher! The result of that is that many have been distracted from the true essence of their calling, only to focus on the acquisition of the “things” and “messages” that can make your voice heard and make people give you recognition above your peers, even if you have to borrow to do it. This hyper-performance drive has led to many a preacher’s burnout!
Competition is driven by an attempt to outdo or outshine others just to show how better than them we are. We compete for attention or affection because we desire to show that we deserve to be more important in the esteem of others than those we seek to displace. We compete for position because we believe we are better than anyone else for the job. This, rather than conviction and passion, is what fuels the spirit of conquest, achievement and acquisition that permeates the entire fabric of human interactions.
The spirit of competition is a product of man’s fallen nature which has resulted in man’s dog-eat-dog rat race for survival and attempts to conquer his environment and dominate some people to the bargain. Frustration is the natural result when we feel that we cannot push ourselves as hard as others in order to compete well with them. This is the basis of all sense of unworthiness and inferiority complex. When we see our ‘models’ of success and ‘winning’ and we consider how far short we fall of their level, we despair and shut in. Sometimes, the aggression within is channeled outwards through deviant behaviour just to grab the headlines, albeit for the wrong reasons.
We were never created to compete. Every person in the world was created with a uniqueness that underscores his potential contribution to the human enterprise. The painful reality that we often fail to see is that not all such contributions will get klieg lights attention or the fancy of headlines. Yet, no contribution made to advance humanity in the genuine realization of a purpose bigger than ourselves will go unrewarded or unnoticed. To fully understand the dynamics of how the Creator intended for the world to work, it would be instructive to study the life of colonies of ants, bees and termites. The sage Solomon even directs our attention to the fact that ants have no “overseers”, in other words, there is no superstar among them, yet they run one of the most organized, efficient and effective network of activities ever known on the planet! The sun, the moon and the stars are all sources of light to the planet. Yet they are never in competition. Each one functions in its time and space and the intensity of one is never a threat to the other! The eco-system is regulated and functionally beneficial to us because each plant or animal is performing a role divinely assigned to it in that order! Plants don’t compete over seasons or quantum of fruit. Each simply delivers at its appointed time, no matter how long it takes!
Unfortunately for the human race, the abnormal has become the norm. An aberration has become our culture. We celebrate it. We revel in it. We extol it. We thrive on it. We even venerate it.
But it may yet be our undoing!… continued
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!