I took this picture while my family and I were touring the campus following our daughter’s dance audition. My cell phone camera did not do this belfry any favors, as you can see, and I’m obviously no photographer. But, in my mind this illustrates something interesting: this building, surrounded as it is by much larger buildings that are considerably more appealing and more impressive to the eye, still stands. It offers little to the overall ‘feel’ of the campus, yet it stands. It could have slunk away long ago in shame over its diminutive size and odd look, but it stands. It is not defeated, and you get the sense that it will never let itself feel in any way inferior. It is “who” and what it is, and is perfectly okay with that. It is NOT in competition with any of the other gorgeous buildings nearby. It knows its role, and plays it well. It knows that what is on its inside is a heckuva lot more important than what it looks like on the outer surface, and it agrees with me that any building with a belfry is in the cool club anyway!
So let’s return to where we left off when last we met. Competition. Today I want to talk about how I would distinguish between healthy, or “positive”, competition, and the destructive, “negative” types of competition.
First off, the title of this post comes from a passage from the Old Testament of the Bible that is very often misquoted. Most times you will see or hear it as, “And the lion shall lie down with the lamb.” Isaiah 11:6 actually reads: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” This is a picture of how things shall be in the new Kingdom that God will establish in the next age on the earth. Do you deduce anything from this verse? Do wolves and lambs, or leopards and goats, or calves and lions, or little children and wolves, leopards, or lions, cohabit in our world peacefully?
This is obviously a world in which competition, as well as the food chain, have been rendered obsolete. This is “The Ideal”. Utopia. Heaven. God’s Magnum Opus. No more tears. No more war. No more pain. No more sickness. No more competition. No more, “Thrill of Victory, and the Agony of Defeat.” God’s peaceable kingdom.
In that day, all will know that they are perfectly ‘OK’. All will know that they are perfectly loved as they are, and there will be no more perceived need to puff myself up, or put others down. No longer will anyone need to be in control, to demand respect, to cast aspersion through gossip or social scheming, or to keep up with the Joneses.
Can we get there now? Well, given that we are all indelibly flawed and fallible human beings, and given that we are all on a long journey through life hoping to better and better learn to depend on one another, to love one another, to help one another, to not fear or worry but to trust in God and safe people around us, but also knowing that we will likely never completely get there this side of the grave, it’s doubtful. But, that is not to say that we can’t achieve progress.
Real progress, however, can only happen beginning with me and with you. I know … sounds corny, but it’s truth. Each of us can, a little at a time, grow closer and closer to the knowledge that we are OK. Completely, just as we are, with all of our mistakes, all of the things we do selfishly or with hurtful attitudes. We are still OK. We are loved by our Creator. No matter what. Believe that … I mean really KNOW that truth … and then there will be nothing anyone can say to you, think about you, or do to you that can take your peace away. Believe that, and there will be much less need for worry or fretfulness. And once we know we are OK, then we can live the serenity prayer we looked at a couple of weeks ago. Loving ourselves, our Creator, and one another will be easy.
And what does all of that have to do with the idea of competition? It has everything to do with it. Starting with a solid foundation of “OK-ness”, no longer must any form of day-to-day human competition cause us fear. Now, I’m not speaking of military warfare or dealing with burglars or muggers. Perfectly normal to feel fear in those situations. But in any other typical form of ‘competition’ – academics, business, clothing, social, sports-related, etc., etc. – fear of “losing” does not any longer have to be a part of one’s normal experience.
Healthy vs. unhealthy thus becomes, not the actual competition itself, but all about my own attitude. Healthy competition is anything that causes me to strive to be my very best, to give my best effort, to play fairly, to examine my strengths and weaknesses, and to build on those. It leads me toward greater and greater teamwork, to become more interdependent with others, to not fear sharing things I’ve learned with others in order to help them. Healthy competition can result in some “pain” if I “lose”, but not the kind of pain that leads me to want to get back at the winner, or to beat myself up, or to be ashamed of myself. Rather, this is the kind of pain that can still enjoy the experience, love and have fun with the “winners”, but then look at ways I can, with God’s help and assuming that we believe it’s our Creator’s will that we even be involved in this particular competition, improve myself and further improve my mental health and attitude.
Unhealthy competition is, likewise, mostly about my own mindset and approach. If I believe that winning the pretty girl’s approval, or getting her to go out on a date with me, or catching the eye and attention of that very cute and popular guy, is all-important for me if I am to be “worthy” or valuable, then this is not healthy. If “winning” makes me feel better about myself, but losing makes me feel there is something terribly wrong with me, that’s not healthy. If winning makes me laugh at my opponent, or losing makes me hate or resent the winner, that isn’t healthy.
Two different women who worked at two different women’s domestic violence shelters here in central Kentucky have each told me that when the Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball team loses a game, they have notably higher rates of women being admitted into the shelters within hours afterward. Something is horribly wrong and unhealthy when competition, not even involving me personally, becomes so important that I get angry enough to lose all control when I lose. We’ve all seen reports of fatal fights and brawls following NFL and college football games, and during and after soccer games in Europe and elsewhere. We’ve all seen MANY cases of violence and murder involving “competition” between men and women, when one someone leaves another someone, and finds a new mate elsewhere. The jealousy and anger we can feel about competition is boundless … IF, again, we base our worth and self-esteem on coming out ahead vs. losing.
So, in conclusion, we again see the truth that being healthy people, especially in any situation in which we are vying with others, involves first and foremost our own attitude. Knowledge that we are not more or less valuable or worthy, no more or less loved, no more or less OK, whether we win or we lose, must be the foundation. Then, taking the attitude that I am only ever going to measure myself against myself, against my own self’s very best, in preparation, practice, effort, and resilience. I can look to others for inspiration, for tips and wisdom as to how to do things better, but never to let myself fall into the trap that when, not if, someone out there does things “better” than I that therefore I simply don’t measure up; that I am a loser. Hogwash. Please, let us all move from that kind of mindset, day by day, toward the truth that, just as in Special Olympics, we can and should all strive to win, but also to be brave, to give our best, and to celebrate all participants when the results are announced!
Craig Meek, M.D.