Living in Competition, Living with Competition

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< really makes us feel very, very lousy about ourselves. Because, instead of doing things for the joy of doing them, we are always doing them with the motivation to be the best, and to be recognized as the best. And of course, as soon as one person’s recognized as best, everybody else feels lousy. But she brought out a really interesting thing in the discussions: it is that with a competitive system, it’s not just the people who are on the lower end who lose out by not being the best who feel lousy; the people who get the laurels, they actually in some ways have more tension and more stress because they have to preserve it.

So you can see in this society where we’re taught from the time we’re this big, to compete with other people. That whether we are high on the scale or low on the scale, it’s very anxiety producing, and very much leads to low self-esteem, because we never feel we are quite good enough, or we never feel we’d be able to maintain that status. But I think it’s too easy just to blame the society. We do that all the time, that’s old hat: “Let’s blame the society.” We should also recognize how much we buy into society’s values, and how much we are conditioned and let ourselves be conditioned by society.

And this is what was so remarkable co-teaching a course with a sciologist, because both disciplines talk about conditioning, and societal influence. I mean, Dharma conditioning is dependent arising, isn’t it? And I think where Dharma really has the insight, is saying that we have a choice, since we have the intelligence to consider things in a deep way. We have a choice: whether we’re going to let ourselves continue to be conditioned like that, or if we’re going to re-condition ourselves with wisdom, to see things in a different way. And I think it’s something to really think about: our whole relationship to competition. Really to look in our hearts: how much do we really buy into it, how much do we compete? What is our feeling when we lose, what is our feeling when we win? Are we happy either way? And Inge asked the students: “What was your first memory of when you realized that you were being compared to other people?” This is an incredible discussion to have.

For me, competition is shaped like a pyramid. Those who excel move up and leave behind the “less competent.” And that’s the rub, not so much the moving up as the leaving behind. The artificial segregation between the best and the better and the mediocre, the walls that get built between the categories and the accompanying self-ghettoization into groups of like-minded, like-abled people. On the dance floor, the most accomplished tango dancers often restrict themselves to their small circle, and refuse to dance with beginners. In the economy, some of the wealthy associate only with other rich people and begin to imagine that they built their wealth on their own capability alone.

Does competition live in you? If so, how?

Do you remember your first experience with grades?



Your reaction when someone on the Beltway drove as if he or she could leave everyone else behind? Or when you were that driver?

When you tried to protect your child from competition? Or exhorted them to excel?

Probably you have some tricks and some wisdoms that help you live better in this competitive world. And maybe you have some challenges that remain unresolved. Please join us on Thursday and share.

Baird Straughan

PS. For an honest, Dharma-filled book on the competitive mindset in academia, try out "This Book is Not Required Reading," by Ingle Bell. It’s a short volume for incoming UC Berkeley freshmen. You can find it online at,+competition&source=bl&ots=lUSsMTcCKC&sig=yemF0igHEUVzSKHP1c6heC-WZh0&hl=en&ei=gipBTpPOJZKftwfgjeWuCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CCUQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=competition&f=false

August 27: Quiet Hike in the Catoctins

September 12: No Fee Introduction to Mindfulness Practice at Crossings in Silver Spring

September 19: Smiling Like A Buddha — A 10-week workshop on Mindfulness at Crossings in Silver Spring

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