Competition: Motivation, Threat, and Incentive

Archetypal Americans would be described as inherently driven, motivated, and ready to win. The United States is always slated to do moderately well in sporting events. Whether the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, or this year’s World Cup, it is known that USA is not a nation that seeks to settle for the silver. It is has become a part of the national identity, and is imbued in our economic and international policy. America wants to be the richest, the most powerful, the best. No matter what place or format the United States will find a way to assert itself or its position as dominant. Since the Manifest Destiny the U.S. has been driven to push out and expand its ideals into the world and in doing so we have found that our views are not always accepted easily. Compromise is not one of our deeply held ethos, so in a world where every thing is connected sometimes the way we have chose to resolve disagreement is conflict.

When nations conflict it results in war, when people conflict, it can result in a fight or an argument, and we also have our own internal dialogues that can cause us mental anguish and stress. These are also conflicts that can occur within business, as conflicts of interest, where we have to goals that seems to combat each other.  But it is not only conflict that pits one side against the other as we have seen with sport.

Just as America is always going for the gold, there are parents on little league fields, through out the world that are pushing their kids to do more than walk away with participation medals. There are so many adults that live vicariously through their children on the soccer field, or the hockey rink, or the baseball diamond. This aggression is something that often times can only be subdued by winning and is sparked by a constant comparison.

I personally have not identified myself as competitive my whole life. As a kid, if I was in a spelling bee, I surely wouldn’t mind winning, but I was much more excited about the idea of being on stage with a big audience. In realizing that the biggest audience was at the final stage, I became competitive as a result of my desire to get in front of the biggest group. This has been problematic for me at times because I lacked the internal driver that might have been necessary to push through the obstacles to win. I had not cultivated the “killer instinct”. And I wonder if it was something that I was not raised to possess or if it was not simply a part of my nature.

Humans as a species are naturally omnivorous so we have the choice to kill for our food or to gather. This dichotomy represents one of the questions I hope to explore this month. Where does our competitive nature come from?

If you ask Darwin he would say that we are competing at the cellular level the moment the reproductive process begins. The fastest and strongest swimming sperm fertilizes the egg and thus begins the process of natural selection that we will govern our entire lives. In the wild, we see the predator/ prey dynamic so clearly, but in society of technology, and morality why have we maintained this principle?

It could be argued that resources are finite and the most natural way of delineating them is through capitalism, but we must ask if all resources are finite, and if they all merit being governed this way. In a civilized world, do we not have the choice to distribute resources via other means? The fear that comes with the idea of scarcity is a powerful motivator, as it is the threat of our own extinction that keeps us evolving right? But we do not only compete for survival and for resource, we clash for infinite things as well, like praise and love.

It seems we have made competition of everything here in America, and have made this culture pervasive across the world as a result. There is not only a Ms. USA pageant but also a Ms. Universe, where women from all over the globe compete to be deemed most desirable. This pageant perspective is not limited to the formal contest however, it seems like American women compete against each other everywhere, from an early age. I wonder if this is really the result of society and learned behavior or of natural instinct, or some combination of both.

We’ll have to look at personality types, national and ethnic background, and even the chemical hormone composition of our bodies to get any insight as to the nature of  how we resolve these real and perceived conflicts. I fear that we may have to step on some toes, but if necessary, hope to do so in an objective and respectful way, with the interest of revealing a greater conversation at heart.

No matter what happens, we will all come out as winners in the end.




-Maceo Paisley-