It seems to be the modern rite of passage.
No, I’m not talking about getting a car or that first paycheck…not even graduating high school…no, I’m talking about participating in a sports youth league. As a child I was bought in on my Little League baseball team. We had a batting tee that I used so much it shattered the top off (on several occasions) and kept shrinking. We’d go out back or to the nearby park to play catch.
As a child, it was fun to sit in the dugout rooting for both our teams’ players, but also getting excited on the field when the opposing team hit a ball with solid contact. Everyone got pumped, played like little kids and shared some root beer floats to end the match. This innocent mindset of mutual success seems to get lost as we age…
Soon no longer can we appreciate the efforts or training from our opponents, but we dog on the officials for calling an unfair game, or find ways to blame conditions that were simply “out of our control”. We find ourselves obsessed by the comparison mandate, a mandate which holds that we only need to be better than the team down the road, only need to be better than the school across the town, only need to be better than the family across the street.
Living a life under the shroud of the comparison mandate makes us feel insecure in the blessings that surround us, grows seeds of jealousy/resentment, and blinds us to possibilities that are meant for our life, but different from the life journeys of those around us. Taking a lead from our youth-filled sports experiences, can we do better by adopting a ‘rooting for rivals’ concept?!
Yes, it would be misleading and overly idealistic for me to claim that we do not (or should not) compete in this world. We compete for awards, positions of influence in our communities, we compete for jobs or raises, we compete against the other business encroaching on our customers or territory…these are all true and realistic, but are there spaces and times where comparison and competition can be set aside, even for a few brief moments, and we can really invest in even our staunchest ‘rival’?
Maybe it is supporting a really great idea from a work colleague or mentoring an upcoming leader in our organization…we can either look at these situations as risks to our own security, influence, or livelihood, but in reality these choices/actions can lead to positive outcomes for our organizations and ourselves! Stephen Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People describes these scenarios as Win-Win’s…
Yet, allow me to go even a little further…are there spaces in our world where comparison and competition are so inappropriate, ineffective that they should never be allowed to take root?!
I’d strongly contend there are! Spaces such as classrooms, families, and churches; these are arenas in our lives where a comparison/competition mandate can rot away at their foundations leaving brokenness, loss, and resentment. Technology has provided its own set of benefits, but a great cause of concern has been the near constant ability to compare/compete without abating through social media platforms…
There is no rest, no safe harbor from the comparison mandate. So, how do we push back? Here a three simple ideas to reclaim these spaces by ‘rooting for rivals’:
- 1. Raise Others:
Encouragement inspires and lifts others. Choosing words that can be ambassadors of positive thoughts will lead others to positive actions. Speak highly of others in private and let’s not fall in the trap of the slippery verbal slope. Competition or not…kind words always win.
- 2. Partner and Share Glory:
We can’t do it all alone! In a small rural school we’ve quickly recognized this. It is why we share concessions duty among the CTE programs, it is why we seek mutually beneficial partnerships between student organizations because our students are literally involved in everything. We are looking at ways to partner with other nearby school Ag programs on future projects…sharing the glory does not diminish the work we do, it actually amplifies our mission!
- 3. Foster Community:
We need a network! If we are afraid of the person we feel is chasing us down or encroaching on “our” turf we will never create meaningful connection or establish any sense of community. Networks made of rivals who care about each other sounds paradoxical…and honestly it is as far as society says. These networks though can foster and fuel innovation and growth. Community-building takes time and trust. Trust can only be established by intentional actions that speak we are in this together not against each other.
I’ll be honest…I view competition as overrated. It serves its purpose in specific contexts, but I choose education as my profession for a reason. It is a profession that should not be based on competition, but on cooperative growth. Our words and actions forge not only who we are, but those who interact with us. Let’s start encouraging, let’s partner with others, and let’s build networks of trust! Together we are stronger!