The race to win turns all of us into losers

Kohn’s definitivecritiqueof competition gave language to a deep belief I’ve held my entire life, but could never clearly articulate. 

He argues that we have a competitive code in our chromosomes. The frantic scramble for position, prestige, profit and power is hardwired into us. Our biological roots tell us that life is fundamentally a competition, and we must construe our world in win or lose terms. 

As such, we’ve crafted a society that trains people to treat coworkers as adversaries. To triumph over others and regard them as obstacles to our own success. 

Resistance to competition is otherwise viewed as suspicious an unamerican. 

In fact, there is no corner of our lives that is too trivial or too important to be exempted from the compulsion to rank ourselves against one another, he writes. There’s no place for sentiment, it’s a matter of survival. We crave the sweet but ignoble satisfaction that we are better than someone else. 

But the irony, of course, is that it’s just a coping mechanism. A clever form of self soothing. Because while competing, we overcome the fundamental doubts about our capabilities. 

While competing, we stave off the persistent, pronounced sense that we are fundamentally no good. While competing, we taste perfection, assert our freedom and triumph over death, experiencing a form of existential affirmation.

Consider the office mate who treats people as invisible, as long as she gets what she wants. She looks at others every day as if to say

You are my rival, you are an it to me, an object, something I use for my own ends. 

But her desperate struggle of treating approval as a scarce commodity and turning love into a kind of trophy that must obtain at the expense of someone else ruins it for everybody. 

The race to win turns all of us into losers. 

I don’t actually have a point here. It’s just relieving to know that life doesn’t have to be an endless succession of contests. 

That daily existence doesn’t have to be structured upon the need to be better than. 

Kohn’s research reassured me that competition need never enter the picture in order for our skills to be mastered and displayed, and for our goals to be set and met. 

Thank god. 


Are you fueled by the competitive edge, or the compassionate one?

* * * *

Scott Ginsberg

That Guy with the Nametag

Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.

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