thoughts on competition

“That most of us consistently fail to consider the alternatives to competition is a testament to the effectiveness of our socialization. We have been trained not only to compete but to believe in competition. If we are asked about it, we unthinkingly repeat what we have been told. Unfortunately, the case for competition, as most of us have learned it, does not stand up under close scrutiny … Most of all, the case for competition is based on a great deal of misinformation. Specifically, it has been constructed on four central myths … The first myth is that competition is an unavoidable fact of life, part of „human nature.‟ ..The second myth is that competition motivates us to do our best … {The] Third [myth], it is sometimes asserted that contest provide the best, if not the only, way to have a good time. … The last [fourth] myth is that competition builds character, that it is good for self-confidence.”14
Kohn, Alfie, No Contest – The Case Against Competition: Why we lose in Our Race to Win (Revised Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1992), p.

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better start running?


I’ve been troubled this week by something I read in ‘The World is Flat’ by Thomas Friedman, (a book which I’ve taken a natural dislike to it has to be said.)

He quotes a translation of an African proverb he once saw in some office somewhere in the world.
The proverb says

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion, or it will be killed.

Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running.”

I’ve been tossing that about in my head all week because I’m not sure if it’s a bare statement of the way things really are on planet earth or if it’s lies from the pits of hell. I think of reflection it’s from the pits of hell as it denies us our humanity.

It seems to speak of a universe  based on competition with winners and losers, a confirmation that life is a race for survival between competitors,  which certainly seems to be  what the history of the world relates over and over again.

How many times do we hear our politicians or business leaders saying that we have to be more competitive in the global economy?
Or the value placed on education as a way to achieve economic growth.
If there is a course that is popular people compete to get on it,
if there is a good school in the local area parents will fight to get their children in it,
A-Levels, Degree, Masters, PhD, good job, make that cv look impressive.

‘It doesn’t matter if we are gazelle or lion, we had better start running’ seems to an inner law that drives humanity forward,
a law that is basically ingrained in our way of viewing the world.

Yet it doesn’t seem to sit right with some deeper truths about the Kingdom,
this rule of competing against your neighbour or this idea that we’re either gazelles or lions racing for survival because our survival doesn’t depend on us.  At the end of the day death still gets us anyway.

For a Christian survival depends upon the  mercy of God and grace,
upon something that is beyond our strength and human ingenuity,
upon a servant king and self sacrificial love which are all things that should be at the core of us, grace, mercy, self sacrificial love, service and justice for the weak.

If I run  it should be for those things

 

trying to walk the bread line

this morning
I’ve been reminded
(once again)
that we live completely
by the grace of God

as usual that part of the Lord’s Prayer
‘Give us this day our daily bread’
was the spark

each time a believer  we prays those words
they’re asking God to provide their daily nourishment
to give them enough for today
and they’re admitting that our daily bread
is a  gift of God’s grace
something we’re powerless to provide by ourselves
for it is a product of the soil, the rains, the sunlight,
that we can never provide
like manna in the desert

It’s  a reminder to myself
on mornings like this morning
that  when I want to lash out at things
to make my own way in the world
to be strong
to be he-man
to  seize the day
to grab my piece of the pie
that the Kingdom  works on different rules
and that this man should work on different rules as well

not that it’s easy
to trust
being on the bread-line

knowing that although you’ve bread enough for today
that tomorrow is a new day
and the day after that

there will be a lot of faith required down the line
and your faith is weak

each day you will pray
‘Give us this day our daily bread’
in faith and trust

do I have that much faith?

we had that those verses
from Matthew six
about not worrying about tomorrow
or the clothes you will wear
or what you will eat
and considering the birds
who neither sow nor reap
and to seek first the Kingdom
and his righteousness
read to us on our wedding day

it is a command of the way we should go

yet  seeking the kingdom
and his justice
in this economy is hard
so hard

writing and topping up your cv
seems to me to be like
playing ‘Top Trumps’
against your neighbour
and at his expense

if it’s true that we receive our daily bread by grace
(like we pray as Christians)
how does this competing for daily bread
(that seems to be the way the economy is designed to work)
come into it?

how do you walk the bread line?

it’s not about making money
it’s about making a living
yet it feels so hard to make a living
in this economy and culture
without engaging that culture and economy
on it’s terms and by it’s rules

on being an artist (even though I’m not)

I’ve been pondering what it means to an artist this week.

First up, personally I don’t really like the term ‘artist’. When I got married I was about to put ‘B&Q Customer Adviser’ ‘ down on my marriage certificate and my minister said ‘Put down artist’.
Well I did put down artist because during those days of getting married I did as I was told. He could have said ‘Put down pole dancer‘ or ‘Put down King of Sweden‘ and I would have.

So that’s what my profession is according to my  marriage certificate. But clearly I’m not an artist artist. The last time I studied art was third year at Cookstown High School at which point (and thanks to not saying what I’d really like to do and being guided by my well meaning parents saying ‘Well there’s probably more jobs in science) I ended up going down the science route, biology, chemistry and physics for A-Level and a degree (just about) in Environmental Chemistry.

There is no point regretting my decision, you make your calls and roll with them. But sometimes I do I guess.
I regret my decision when I don’t have the skill to draw what I see or what’s in my head or don’t have the craft to carry out something with finesse.

Some people have said ‘Well why don’t you go back and study art?’ but it just seems like a daft thing to do. Thousands and thousands of pounds to study something that will most likely never allow me to make a living and debt for years to come?No thanks.

It is hard though because I feel the need to create and make stuff deep in my bones, because it’s often easier for me than using words. That doesn’t mean that it’s easier for other people to understand me of course, just I find words and speaking hard sometimes. It doesn’t allow me time to reflect or ponder, which is also why I like blogging I guess. I’m allowed the reflection time that quick fire conversation doesn’t allow me.

I guess I was thinking about this in relation to how much you should promote or ‘push’ the stuff you make.  There is a gift like aspect to art but if you push it too much you can turn it into a commodity or  something a bit lacking in relationship.

The Gift‘  is a book which I’ve tried to read a few times, but it just bores me into giving up a few chapters in.  But these words sort of get to heart of what I’ve been pondering.

‘every modern artist who has chosen to labor with a gift must sooner or later wonder how he or she is to survive in a society dominated by market exchange. And if the fruits of a gift are gifts themselves, how is the artist to nourish himself, spiritually as well as materially, in an age whose values are market values and whose commerce consists almost exclusively in the purchase and sale of commodities’

Lewis Hyde, The Gift

I guess it’s that idea of how you can demonstrate gift and grace in a society like ours which is dominated by competition or trying to win the race for survival against your competitors or neighbours. I find that idea of ompetition hard.
For me, art should have a unique, gift like dimension to it but it feels like most of our culture and society is trying to crush that ideal out, especially with the recession. With the recession people seem to be trying even harder to compete and make a living as they don’t (understandably) want to be the losers.

I’ve been trying to make cards this week, they’re not masterpieces of Western art by any stretch of the imagination (far, far from it) but they are hand made and I try to make them funny or a bit different. To give myself a fair price for making them I might have to charge a few pounds extra to something out of Clinton Cards.

Yet to sell the cards to someone who doesn’t feel sorry for me I immediately feel like I have to compete on price with other people. Something of the gift idea is lost and is replaced by competing which I hate. I don’t want to compete with other people yet it’s so easy to do and there almost seems like no escape from it.

This gets me down. I’m not sure why.

economic warfare

‘To begin with the real ground of the military crown, I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians…
Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword?
And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law?
And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?
Shall he, forsooth, either keep watch-service for others more than for Christ, or shall he do it on the Lord’s day, when he does not even do it for Christ Himself?
And shall he keep guard before the temples which he has renounced?

And shall he take a meal where the apostle has forbidden him?
And shall he diligently protect by night those whom in the day-time he has put to flight by his exorcisms, leaning and resting on the spear the while with which Christ’s side was pierced?
Shall he carry a flag, too, hostile to Christ?
And shall he ask a watchword from the emperor who has already received one from God?
Shall he be disturbed in death by the trumpet of the trumpeter, who expects to be aroused by the angel’s trump?
And shall the Christian be burned according to camp rule, when he was not permitted to burn incense to an idol, when to him Christ remitted the punishment of fire? ‘
.
That was early church leader Tertullian writing in De Corona and just about the only bit I could just about understand. I was thinking about it as the word ‘competition’ crops up so much with regards to the economy. Often you hear it in  phrases like ‘We need more trained graduates to be competitive on the world market’  or how a factory might have to close its doors as it was no longer competitive on the world market.
People should seek re training if they are finding it hard to find employment. The reason is that it will give them a competitive edge over those other people seeking work. So you might have two equally capable people applying for a job but because one has spent money and applied themselves to doing a course they are deemed the more worthy and get the job.
Which is just another way of rewarding someone for being ‘stronger’ than another as he wasn’t lazy and applied himself more thoroughly that someone lazier.
 Those who aren’t as a strong will up their game and compete against their neighbour and suddenly everyone is a potential competitor and society will rise up and up like some type of super tower of Babel.

I used to read an essay called ‘Economy and Pleasure’ by Wendell Berry when I worked in my favourite DIY warehouse.

‘It is a fact that the destruction of life is a part of the daily business of economic competition as now practiced. If one person is willing to take another’s property or to accept another’s ruin as a normal result of economic enterprise, then he is willing to destroy that other person’s  life as it is and as it desire’s to be. ‘

This was the way of things. Basically at one level I was earning money but at the larger picture I was helping the large DIY warehouse try and destroy Woodies across the road or the other DIY shop’s in the area. The aim of game ultimately was to take market share from those other businesses and grow our market share. Or in other words to aim of the game was to win.

Perhaps it is a stretch but I always felt like a soldier in some type of warfare without guns or traditional weapons, but using a scanning gun instead. But the ultimate aim was the same, to grow and preserve the empire I was serving at the cost of the our enemies and to make more and more economic profit for the owners.

Maybe that’s a mad view of the world, and I know that it’s not simple. I know that many good people run fine businesses and make good decisions in difficult situations.   I admire people who have the balls to step out and take risks and wish I was more like that. Perhaps it’s a sign of my sinfulness that I’m lazy or something.
But it’s also my personal conscience I guess or something like that.