A need to compete is a very basic need that is seen to be existing in every living being, though society and the environment do also contribute to the level at which it exists.
This, of course, is the foundation of evolution itself, as per Dr Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory. Application of this principle to life’s mechanism would mean that the more competitive creature has a better chance of survival. For instance, a gazelle that for some biomechanical reason runs faster than average is more likely to escape predators and will therefore be more likely to produce more offspring than slower ones since the latter would get to reproduce during fewer breeding seasons.
The key difference between human and animal behavior is the delinking of competition and survival. If the gazelle runs to save its life from predators, humans run to test their ability and fitness. In other words, human beings compete not just to survive, but to excel.
Certainly, this has brought in a lot of progress. We would not have had so many athletes doing their best and increasing the standard in virtually all games, had it not been for competition. At another level, the constant improvement that we see in virtually all products is certainly due to the increased efficiency and productivity due to competition. So, is there a problem?
What is the problem?
There is a Tamil proverb which says, ‘When taken in excess, even nectar turns into poison’. This is definitely applicable to excessive competition.
This is particularly true for those with health challenges. Acupuncture had given me miraculous results. Still, I knew I had to combat a health challenge like multiple sclerosis hence logically I needed to accept that one can improve only in stages and I cannot abuse the human body. Now, I do yoga regularly, go for regular walks and always use the stairs and not the lift. Is this not a great place to be in ? Why am I now trying to compete with everyone else in the area of fitness ?
Enjoy life on your own terms
At a childrens’ party that I recently attended, all the adults who came to pick up the children wished to make the children eat quickly. One parent announced a ‘prize’ for the child who finishes his food first. One little boy, after struggling to gobble up his food for a while, suddenly got up, and said, ‘We don’t want a prize that does not let us enjoy the food’. Everyone burst out laughing, while the adults were suitably chastened. This incident sums up the essence of excessive competition.
It need not be so. Competition, essentially a standard or scale of measurement, can be extremely beneficial, if only it is understood and applied properly. What is required is some self-examination; which is bound to give us a new perspective on who we are, what is it that we wish to achieve, and ultimately, why and with whom we need to compete. Most often, we will find that it is our own performance that we need to improve on. With this perspective, competition becomes a tool rather than a threat.
If survival of the fittest is a key principle in nature, so is adaptability. Just as a creeper sprouts from a wedge in a rocky surface, we too can find our place in the rockiest of terrains, if only we realize that there is place in the world for all of us.
Adaptability is shown in a myriad ways, be it in the thorny skin of the cactus or the bees that fertilize the flowers even as they partake of the honey. It is time we revisited the basic values of life and ask ourselves what it is that we are chasing. ‘The Bhagavad Gita says a confused mind is the main cause of all stress and so do many psychological studies.
By (re)connecting to the basic values of life, I would be able to understand ourselves and the journey of life, while appreciating every step of the progress that I am able to make on this journey.
Indeed, it’s time I learnt to say like the little boy at the party, ‘I don’t want a prize that does not let me enjoy the food”