Peaceful Competition


The spirit of the universe is at once creative and destructive.. it creates while it destroys and destroys while it creates, and therefore it remains to us a riddle. And we must inevitably resign ourselves to this. Albert Schweitzer

Competition is all around us. In our business world, our education systems, sport and many forms of entertainment. It’s impossible to escape the dominance of competitive thinking and practice.

People who know me would probably describe me as an averagely competitive person. Getting me to ‘play’ might be a challenge, but when I do play, I like to win and it’s not the end of the world if I don’t. Whether it’s in my personal, social or economic life, I’ve always preferred co-operation over competition and partnership over adversarial relationships.

Somehow I had this idea that ‘competition’ is bad and I avoided it as much as possible. Recently I started to question that belief. One of the reasons was that I really enjoy watching sport and rooting for my favourite soccer team seemed hypocritical – but I still did it!

I think there are two basic approaches to competition, one creative and one destructive.

Competition as a creative force

And so you touch this limit, something happens and you suddenly can go a little bit further. With your mind power, your determination, your instinct, and the experience as well, you can fly very high. Ayrton Senna

This approach is to use my fellow competitors to help me raise my game to the best it can be. Winning is a measure of how well I played, relative to my opponent. It feels good when I’ve won, not because I’ve beaten anyone but because I’ve performed the best I could and that was better than anyone else.

My energy is about creating the circumstances to raise both of our games to the highest level possible. I want all my competitors to be at their peak and without my full respect towards them this won’t happen.

In my view there are few things more creative and exciting to watch than two (or more) sides at the height of their game, challenging each other to more and more skill. Whether it’s in sport, business or any other endeavour.

Yes, there may be a winner and a prize. But it is the art of the competition itself that is of primary importance. It’s what we’ve created together and we can all feel proud by having taken part.

Competition as a destructive force

Racing is not what I like to do; it’s winning. Jeff Gordon

This approach is about winning at all costs. Winning is the end and competition the means. If I approach it in this way then I may be equally focused on getting the other side to lose than on raising my own game. One upmanship and cheating (maybe even stretching the rules to the extreme) all become part of the game and my focus is to prove (to myself, and ideally the other side), that I’m better. Winning feels good, not because I’ve played the best I could, but because I’ve won.

As competition is secondary to winning it’s much less likely that we’ll create much. It may happen but is a by-product and may be more about creative ways to destroy the opposition.

I’m more interested in myself than I am in my other player and in extreme cases I want to damage my opponent – certainly I’m not at all interested in respecting them.

I don’t believe either is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but is more about how we approach life and the people in it.

Personally I’m more interested in creative competition and avoid people who only play to win.

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