Are you an "uncomfortable" winner? An ignored runner-up? Are you impatient with the countless "games" we seem destined to play out in our everyday lives? Are you tired of scorekeeping, and do you secretly wish things could be different?
They can. Here at last is a lively primer for those of you who wonder why the urge to compete never seems to make everyone happy. With robust candor, Steven Homel reveals one of the best-kept secrets of the human race, and in a brisk, engaging fashion he uncovers the source of much that contributes to a sense of private unhappiness.
Living in an arena may have been rewarding for the gladiators (at least those of them who managed to be successful at their craft), but it is of doubtful value to many of us who are confronted with the daily stresses and tensions of living in a high-technology society. The gladiators had no choice but to compete. Luckily for us, we do.
Within these pages, the whys and wherefores of the competitive instinct are deftly examined by the author, and the conclusions are dramatically different from the usual advice on how to "cope" with competition. Why we need to cope with it at all is a major question asked by Mr. Homel in his book. Does success in life really require the use of this fundamental natural equipment, resulting so often in a competition obsession? Or, is the competitive instinct — like the primitive and useless appendix snuggled beneath our abdomens — just so much extra baggage?
The answers to these questions are here offered in epigrammatic clarity stoutly laced with humor. From Darwin to Little League, from business to Bristlecone pines, this treasure of a book gives all of us who have endured silent discomfiture in the face of competitive situations a brand-new comfort zone — one which will enrich and enhance our lives beyond measure.
1: What is Competition? 5
2: The Law of the Jungle 13
3: Artificial Evolution 35
4: The Envy "Reactor" 47
5: Defense, Defense! 57
6: Let's Make a Deal 67
7: Adversary Advertising 85
8: Adversary Living 101
9: Success: Is Anyone Interested? 121
10: Or the Bear Eats You 1 43
11: Civilization: Arena or Marketplace? 151
Competitors Anonymous 167
1: WHAT IS COMPETITION?
Have you ever been a loser? I don't mean a person with a reverse Midas touch; I mean a person who is accomplished and still doesn't win because someone slightly better entered the contest. It can happen in sports, sales, music, or politics and it isn't easy to take.
If you've ever been a loser, you know that competition is for winners. The very essence of competition is the distinction between a winner and everyone else in the contest.
Tell me, if you can, who the silver medalist was behind Mark Spitz in the 1976 Olympics? Or, which horse placed second to Silky Sullivan in the Kentucky Derby (a money-winner at that!)? The runners-up are always forgotten much faster than the winners. It is the nature of competition.
We describe competition in many different ways. It could be called simply "winning" or being
THE COMPETITION OBSESSION
"Number 1," and is often graphically referred to as "dog-eat-dog," "survival- of-the-fittest," or "eat-or-be-eaten." Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines competition as:
The act or action of seeking to gain what another is seeking to gain at the same time . . . a common struggle for the same object . . .
In other words, competition is two or more people trying to acquire a prize which only one of them can have. The one who succeeds is the winner, and all others are, of course, losers. Additionally, the loser is the standard by which a winner measures himself. If winning a football game was dependent on nothing more than achieving a minimum score, both teams would win. That, by definition, is not competition because all of the contestants can have the prize. My imagination is hard pressed to accept the image of Super Bowl fans being delighted because both teams won.
Competition is clearly a situation where winners prevail at the losers' expense. A good example of this was dueling: the winner lived and the loser died. This is a rule for a vampire to live by. His life continues at the expense of another's — and so it is with all competition. Not long ago I was out for a morning run and
WHAT IS COMPETITION?
ended up at a local park smack in the middle of a preteen soccer tournament. I had stopped to rest and watch the game when I overheard the coach saying to one of his downcast twelve-year-olds, "Relax, it's not important if you win the game, you're just here to have some fun." The young player stared at his shoes for a moment, then returned to the game. The coach's consolation was obviously as well received as an announcement canceling Christmas: he was rationalizing. When it was clear to both of them they were probably going to lose, the coach gave his timeworn advice to make the agony of losing a little easier.
The truth is, competition is fun only if you are winning because that's the object of the game. The young soccer player learned a sad lesson that will be of questionable value in helping him to adjust to his later adult life in a competitive world: when you're not winning, cook up a palatable lie and try to believe it. If you don't believe me, ask the next person you see losing at something if he's having a really terrific time.
Actually, it is possible to find people who are losing who would tell you that they are having a good time. In the very same park I've watched people play softball on a sunny afternoon after a picnic. They drink beer, laugh at errors, and generally have a goodtime. If the losing side were asked whether losing was upsetting them, they would surely tell me that it didn't matter; they were just out for the exercise and camaraderie. That's the point. The object of the activity was to get exercise, not to win. The object of the soccer game—by virtue of its league, playoffs, and championships— was to win. I'm not saying that all human activities are competitive, but that many competitive activities are deemed non-competitive in the face of losing. This isn't done because people basically feel guilty about competing. It's done to protect the vanquished—by switching horses in midstream. When the original objective of winning becomes out of reach, the loser pretends it doesn't matter. You know, "sour grapes." This is an addictive form of self-dishonesty, and our soccer coach is a perfect example.
There's not much room at the top. One chairman of the board is all that's allowed. One holder of the fastest mile is the maximum. Ultimately, only a few are winners. That leaves mostly losers busy justifying their losses. Once a person learns to lie to himself, it is easy to lie to others. It's no wonder few people can be believed or trusted, when one of their primary philosophic principles, success through competition, often motivates them to be dishonest. I can
WHAT IS COMPETITION?
understand how such a thing could happen: it's extremely difficult for anyone to accept a world where they are branded as worthless. In a competitive world, where second place doesn't count for much, feelings of worthlessness are the rule rather than the exception. There's precious little room for winners, but lots for losers.
Furthermore, competition is a relative concept. That is to say, the objective is to win no matter how poor the performance is. If your opponent stumbles and falls, it matters naught. If a competitor can win against a lesser foe, he will. The prize is for winning and not how little you won by. Competitors may not openly admit it, but they have a vested interest in their opponent's downfall. That may seem obvious on the surface, but the idea goes much deeper; we will take a closer look at it in Chapter 4.
Of course, winners want to win, but do they care how good they are at what they do? What matters is winning; if hoping the other guy does his poorest helps win, that's what the winner wants. As long as he is better than his opponent, the winner is content. After all, that's what he's acknowledged for. Nothing is a more relative standard of excellence than competition: you can only tell where first place is by second place. True accomplishment is not built on such relative comparisons. For example, wasAlbert Einstein's objective to be slightly better than his fellow physicists? Certainly not. He strove to know as much as he could about the universe he lived in. His objectives weren't relative to other men, but based on his own growth; therefore, they were absolute and not competitive. Competition is always relative since it depends on comparisons to others "in the race." In the end, it's not a positive, produc-tive standard for personal achievement. Before a better standard than competition can be developed, we must examine why competitiveness is so successful in attracting followers, how it operates, and why it can't succeed in the long run. In order to fully understand competition, it is necessary for us to march through the murky swamps of nature in the next chapter and come to grips with Darwin's biology. Many of the misconceptions about the nature of competition come from taking Darwin out of context. His perspective was 19th century and ours is 20th century. Much has happened since 1850, so please bear with me on this safari through science. Hopefully, you will emerge on the other side of Chapter 3 with a better understanding of competition and the jungle that we live in. Since the science of evolution is itself evolving, we must cover in some detail both its past and present state to enable us to