Questioning Competiveness and the Need to Win

By on February 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

 

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James Wells, a good friend and wise man, says we cannot recognise and stand in our strong and healthy ‘Yes‘ to life until we find our equally assured ‘No.’ I thought about James’ words while swimming laps last year. Catching myself in a petty smallness, comparing my speed

I thought about James’ words while swimming laps last year. Catching myself in a petty smallness, comparing my speed to the woman in the other lane who wasn’t paying attention to me at all,  I said NO — to an old and weary habit, a competitive streak that has warped and shaped much of my life.

This competitive habit started at a very young age when I learned that striving to win was possible in almost every situation, even in the home nest. My mother was ambitious, not for herself for she sacrificed her nursing dreams when she became a wife and mother in a tiny sawmill town on Vancouver Island. Instead, she transferred her ambitions to her children. I was the eldest, the first in line to receive her enthusiastic attention. With her insistent encouragement, I competed in school events, music festivals and swimming regattas. Only years later that I realised I also competed with my mother herself for the biggest prize of all — my father’s attention and affection. Frequent ‘victories’ on each battleground, including the one for my father’s heart, reinforced the perception that striving for perfection was admirable, even if it meant hurting someone else.

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Here’s a glimpse of how the dynamic worked... When I was a teenager, my mother would retreat from the dinner table to wash the dishes. Meanwhile, I was often excused from this menial task because Dad and I were engaged in heated, ‘important’ conversations, too intellectual and abstract to interest Mom. Though I sensed her hurt feelings (she could radiate a resentful grudge from a great distance) I choose to ignore her. I was swept up in the heady rush of power generated by the charged intimacy with my father.

In those formative years, I aspired to the victory over rather than the less ‘rewarding’ but more heart-centered connection with my mother. While my father may have been oblivious of these power dynamics, I was aware of what was happening: I knew what I wanted, and I learned how to get it. Many years later I began to understand the hidden costs of these dubious victories…

 

 

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Competition is a hallmark of the patriarchy. While many of our societal achievements and accomplishments have been gained through healthy competition, we have also sacrificed much. Many subtle, essential life-elements are abandoned when we compete with each other— the delightful camaraderie in spirited play, the rich soulfulness of every-day artistry, the constant surprise of unexpected beauty, encountered in each other and discovered within ourselves.

Perhaps most important of all, we sacrifice the ongoing mystery of our connection-with each other, and the rhythms of the natural world, fostering instead arbitrary yet tenuous positions of power.

 

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Eventually, all striving runs its natural course and exhausts itself. When we narrowly focus ourselves in striving mode rather than openly embracing the fullness of life, we always run out of steam! Life challenges our stubborn drivenness through a host of corrective ‘remedies.’ Illness, disappointment, isolation, repeated failures, costly addictions, loss of relationships all bring us to our knees, forcing us to pause… and hopefully, to question our habit of constantly pushing and shoving ourselves through life.

Saying ‘no’ to any destructive habit always creates an initial disorientation, a fluttery anxiety in the void of the unknown. Collectively, we are addicted to speed throughout every area of our lives, therefore it is completely natural that we may feel lost and confused when competition’s seductive adrenalin falters. Without this impulse, how do we move ahead? When accomplishment and productivity are no longer prized, and the carrot at the end of the stick looks really withered and limp, what are our inspired references?

 

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Back to my race in the pool…

As I relaxed my impulse to beat my fellow swimmer, I began to think about her as a person. In her own way, she too was very driven, often working out in the gym, weight-lifting or spinning for an hour before cooling down with 60 laps in the pool. My mean little victory faded as I appreciated her remarkable dedication and perseverance.

Recently, a wise friend said, “When women step into their authority, they tend to become patriarchal.” Her comment made me catch my breath. Men and women have both been tarred with patriarchy’s cruel brush. Everyone is exhausted, and so is the ravaged earth.

Perhaps now, more than ever before, we are being called to consciously remember and honour the ways of the feminine — the ways of nature, the wisdom of our bodies, and to participate in the ever-renewing cycles of Life.

Our first steps may require a whole lot of little NO’s until we feel the large and lovely surge of YES rising in our bones. And with this YES alive in us, who knows what delights await… we may remember how to play together again…

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