Keeping Competition Healthy
Many people are naturally competitive. No matter what it is that we are doing, we always want to be the first, the best, or the winner. While this tendency may have its benefits sometimes, it is not necessarily a mindset that we should always be in.
Over the summer, many of us had the opportunity to watch Olympians such as Michael Phelps compete against groups of amazing athletes in order to be recognized as the best in the world at what they do. Phelps finished his Olympic career with 28 medals total, 23 of those being gold. Americans admire the successful and strive to be like Phelps or other Olympians. Despite the fact that most swimmers will never get to the level that Michael Phelps did, they are driven to improve themselves and become faster than the swimmers around them. These same principles apply to many other practices.
Competitive spirit drives individuals to become better at whatever they do. It’s why businesses have employees of the month; it’s why schools rank their students by GPA and have awards such as valedictorian. It can make otherwise dreary tasks more engaging and enjoyable. If there were no class rankings, then most people would be satisfied with just passing a class. Not very many people want to go run in circles on a track just for the heck of it, but racing is a different matter. Runners are motivated to finish first, pass a group of people in front of them, or possibly just to avoid being last.
While being competitive has many benefits, it can also leave people unsatisfied and unhappy. People who are competitive may compare themselves to those who are far more successful than they are and then beat themselves up for not living up to someone else’s standards. Losing becomes much more unpleasant than it might be otherwise. Instead of being happy for the person who did well, an overly competitive person will feel bad for an extended period of time. Someone who is very competitive may even go as far as to demean those who are not as successful as him or her.
One solution that has been thrown around is to “give God the glory” for whatever success one might have. The thought behind this is that people should be humble in victory and defeat; knowing that all gifts come from God alone. However, it runs the possibility of simply becoming a mechanism that people can use to deflect the blame for a bad performance. When asked about what he thought of the phrase, Coach Patton of the cross country team said, “Part of it might be a psychological thing. If I say that I’m doing that, maybe then I’m not as nervous as I would be if it were all about me.” He told me the story of Eric Liddell and his performance at the 1924 Olympic games as an example of an athlete who truly gave God the glory. He did not place his performances first in his life, as was shown by his refusal to run races on Sundays, but he was still competitively driven enough to win two medals that year in events he wasn’t considered as good in. Giving glory to God does not have much of anything to do with how someone goes about running a race– it has much more to do with how people prioritize their lives.
Competition in and of itself is not a bad thing. The two extremes which people should avoid are arrogance and indifference. Don’t make performances the most important parts of your life, but drive yourself to do well in whatever task you set your mind to.