Optimizing Competition: From Adversaries to Allies


Competition: a prevailing force among the tethering complexities of peer-to-peer relations and a genesis to glee, gloom, grudges and greatness alike. A concept with its own cache of cliché themes that cue in chastising scowls, sympathetic smiles and inspiring admiration as we picture participation trophies, the 110-percent defeat and the underdog’s triumph. But between reassurances that I tried my best, frustrated friends spiking game pads and rivals’ admiration, piecing together the optimal way of schematizing competition has remained a mentally elusive task that I still see strangers, colleagues and companions consistently and similarly struggle with. Based on how we treat and view our opponents, I’ll try to construct some helpful guidelines on how to engage in healthy competition.

Stop caring about social standing that results from competition. If the primary motivator is claiming excellence over your peers, then you are mentally constructing them as an adversary; a roadblock to be broken through that withholds bragging rights and self-esteem boosts. It not only pollutes competition with toxicity that leads to dishonest play, snide remarks and pyrrhic victories but also poorly reflects on yourself as insecure and egotistical. Additionally, yearning for relative superiority over your competitors limits you to only out-ranking your current competition instead of reaching your full potential, which may stem beyond that.

Instead, we should feel obliged to conceive of our opponents as allies, both for the sake of competition itself and out of respect. It is difficult to deny that competition breeds creativity and fuels a profound motivational fire in our souls. If this is true, then on what grounds can we do anything but thank them? The iron that sharpens my iron is no foe of mine, and thus the nobility of the competitive contract is plain to see. By this, any notion of toxicity is purged, and only deep-seated respect and friendship remain. Imagine yourself as a spectator: what’s more satisfying than witnessing rivals revere one another? By turning adversary into ally, arrogance and insecurity turn to virtue and maturity.

In this allegiance, mental fortitude and full-hearted effort are also necessitated. By engaging in this competitive contract, the goal becomes to raise one another up; half-hearted efforts and overtaking discouragement fail to fully engage in feeding the fire of the other, and we do them a disservice. If we leave a competition in melancholy, it should only be for the reason that we failed to give it our all for the sake of pushing both ourselves and our competitors. If this happens, then we deserve no sympathies but rather reprimand for wronging our competitors and ourselves. The competitive mentality then becomes an absolute desire to attain our best selves, not to dominate our opponents but to be better able to push them to their peak.

When we use language that encourages a type of “dominating” mentality, as opposed to a “pushing” mentality, we simultaneously fail to recognize and dignify the humanity of our competitors, which is ethically repugnant, and encourage a sense of tribalism, which is intellectually repugnant. In a team scenario, it is often the case that if our motivation draws from domination, we’re instilling an idea that the group we’re associated with deserves more than groups we’re unassociated with for the arbitrary reason that we happen to be associated with one group, and not the other, e.g., the Packers deserve to win because I was born in Wisconsin. If we encourage this type of “dominating” mentality, then we are committing an ethical and intellectual blunder.

The team scenario is important to mention, as it is easy to imagine an individual’s egotistical side brought out by competition, but, in the midst of team spirit, we often fail to recognize the very same mistake.

If we want to reflect critically on competition and strive to reach a more humane and virtuous version of it, then we must start by recognizing our opponents as allies. The fire brought on by the will to dominate must be overwhelmed by a will to actualize potential. If we want to reach our full potential, it is only just to want the same for others. Our opponents, the ones pushing us more than anyone, are no exception.


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