Friendly competition in America does not exist


Nothing wrong with a little friendly competition — right?

Perhaps, but when is competition ever truly friendly in the United States? To me, such a term as “friendly competition” seems no less of an oxymoron then plastic silverware, virtual reality or passive aggression. Judging from my own life experiences, I’m not sure such a contradictory concept — friendly competition — can exist.  

Dating back to my own childhood, it is difficult to recall a time when competition didn’t play a huge role in my life. Whether in the classroom or on the little league baseball diamond, I was taught at a young age that winning is important and, above all else, results matter. 

As a consequence, I learned early on to value grades over learning, batting averages above having fun and results before experiences.

At the time, I didn’t think twice about these teachings, but, looking back now, I am not so sure that I agree with the emphasis on results. 

What about the importance of experiences gained along the way, friendships made, lives influenced or lessons learned? Do these things simply not matter as much as end results? 

Despite my feelings that outcomes are often over emphasized, I’m not going to try and say they aren’t important. Results can motivate hard work and also function as measuring sticks to verify and prove our past accomplishments, but all too often, competition can serve as a double-edged sword.

But issues occur when we get tunnel vision and allow winning to become all that matters to us. In many cultures, this cutthroat mentality is probably looked at as an overindulgent fixation with being the best, but in the United States, we simply call it friendly competition. 

Competing against others, even in a friendly way, doesn’t always fuel us to be better or work harder, instead it just makes us cold and callous towards adversaries, as well as less compassionate.

With competition all around us from academics to games and sports meant for fun, it can be difficult to guard ourselves from becoming preoccupied with our obsession to compete.

Many of us might even be unaware of our competitive nature.

For instance, you might ask yourself, is winning a matter of character validation to prove your worth or importance to others? If you aren’t especially good at an activity, do you make great efforts to avoid that endeavor at all costs? Do you commonly find yourself surveying others in class about the grade they got just to see if you got a higher score?  

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, consider yourself a potential prisoner to your own lust for competition.

When thinking about when it’s OK to compete against others, such as in professional sports and legitimate competitions, and when it’s not, one important thing to always consider is the context of the stakes you are competing for — a fierce attitude is not acceptable during a game of checkers or when playing Call of Duty.

Certain activities, no matter how much you love the feeling of winning, do not warrant extreme competition.

The reason for this is simple: Not all activities have to derive their meaning from whether you were victorious or not. Some things can be done solely for the sake of having a good time or enjoying yourself with others — even if you do lose or don’t do as well as others.  

Another element of friendly competition that is important to ensure you’re not becoming a “win-at-all-cost” blowhard is to remember the context of whom you’re competing with. A common instance where this context is often breached is when individuals are found creating rivalries between friends and family. 

For me, this has always been a bizarre concept to conceptualize. First of all, why would someone desire to create an opposition between themselves and a loved one over something petty? Secondly, how can someone not be happy for the success of another that they both love and respect? 

Additionally, we do the same thing in the classroom setting by creating rivalries that need not exist. What we often forget about education is that it’s not meant for us to compete against others — it’s meant to work towards acquiring new information.

Accumulating knowledge and tailing together a respectable grade point average is unaffected by the success or failures of others. Regardless, friendly competition prevails in the United States school systems and many other realms of life.

To combat our culture’s overwhelming obsession with always being the best and winning at all costs, my suggestion is to put less emphasis on competition and more on collaboration. 

While the basic premise for competition is one person winning and another one losing, collaboration is built around the idea of two people winning, so that no one has to lose. 

To benefit ourselves and those around us, we should put more focus on working together and making it less about beating others.

Jed is a junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]