I have never considered myself to be a competitive person. Perhaps at one point I wasn’t, or perhaps I’ve just been deluding myself all this time. The first indisputable proof that I am indeed a competitive person came when I started riding my bike to work on a regular basis*. I noticed after only a few weeks that I just could not tolerate being passed, and had an unquenchable thirst to pass others.
Now in the grand scope of competitive behavior, this assessment isn’t really all that scathing. Even assuming that you (like me) have some presentiment that excessive competition is contra-indicative of peak mental health, you will probably grant that a behavior like running at the head of the heard is a natural survival instinct.
The question is, “How much faster than the slowest member of the heard does one, evolutionarily speaking, have to be?” And in case that’s understating the problem, “How much faster than the fastest does one have to be?” Certainly, for individual survival, one simply needs to not be lion lunch. To ensure the survival of one’s “line”, some competition for a choice mate may be in order. Beyond that though, I believe we are in the realm of entirely human concern.
… this was (save the introduction) more or less what was going through my mind in the 30 seconds or so walk between the exit of SETI and my bike. By the time I saddled up to ride home I had noticed that it was an ideal Californian Autumn afternoon, and I was exhausted. Having just critiqued myself for being ever-so-slightly over-competitive and in celebration of a hard won end to my work day, I decided to perform a small experiment. I decided that I would under no circumstances accelerate to pass or avoid being passed, that I would not break a sweat, and that I would take time to observe everything that I could on the way home.
Now as it turns out, I had it pretty easy on this first iteration. There was only one biker bound in the same direction as me, and he couldn’t have been more than 6 years old. I even thought for a moment that I should slow down to let him pass me, but decided that that would be disingenuous, and not in the spirit of the experiment. I can say that I did notice a lot more than usual … mostly kids and homeless people peeing in the woods, but still, I was present… More importantly I can honestly say that I arrived home refreshed and changed. Changed, not in some super-significant way, but calmer, more open and yes happier than when I had left work.
I’m a moderate person, and would certainly never suggest that all competition is bad, or that we should just roll over and let the world do with us as it sees fit, but I do wonder if maybe we (and by we, I mean I) are over doing it a little. How about you? Do you ever take an intentional break from competition. How does it feel. Do you feel that you compete in unhealthy ways? How would it feel to let that go?
* Some who know me might argue that I should have recognized this way back in high school when I (for reasons not even known to me) took up and became quite good at greko/roman wrestling.