Healthy Competition?

A passage in The Book of Joy, a wonderful book by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, shifted my thinking. For some time, I’ve been arguing that because most people either dominate or submit, mutually respectful partnerships are rare. The Book of Joy offers a different perspective.

It reads:

There is a Tibetan Buddhist teaching that says what causes suffering in life is a general pattern of how we relate to others: “Envy toward the above, competitiveness toward the equal, and contempt toward the lower.”

That saying suggests that many people who see others as equals compete to establish dominance or superiority.

But does all competition cause undesirable suffering? Many leftists disparage competition and advocate cooperation as an alternative. But the situation seems more complicated than that to me. It seems some competition can be fruitful.

So I posted to Facebook, “What’s the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition?” and received four responses:

  1. If we are just as happy whether we win or lose; when we can be sincerely happy for the person who wins, then we are not really competing – we are testing ourselves against a standard that involves other people. Depending on the area, we can sometimes test ourselves against our previous level, but sometimes it is helpful to test ourselves against our peers to make sure that the standards we have set for ourselves are reasonable.
  2. Playing by the rules and knowing that winning isn’t everything, [but] too many hormones & egos get in the way!
  3. I always think of how musicians play TOGETHER rather than compete… takes a stretch to apply that to sporting competition
  4. I think it’s really quite dependent on the situation. Some behaviors that are healthy competition in some arenas are not healthy in other arenas (e.g. team sports vs individual sports, any sport vs any artistic endeavor, any artistic endeavor vs any business endeavor.) But one thing I think is true across them all: If you’re so focused on your ‘need’ to win that you’ve stopped taking the humanity of your opponent into account, then you’re probably deep into the unhealthy zone….

What do you think of those responses? What do you think about the question? Is there is a  difference between healthy and unhealthy competition? If so, what’s the difference?


4 Responses to Healthy Competition?

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