I read a great post this week by the lovely Liz over at Living with Kids that really got me thinking.  I won’t go into details….it’s well worth reading the original so go have a look here if you haven’t already done so.

I commented in my usual ‘fingers hit the keyboard, brain more or less engages, publish’ kind of way and then sat back and really thought about it.  I wondered if my whole ‘anti-competitive’ stance on this particular debate was linked to the fact that really I felt that I had lost, or failed in some way.  Was my negativity more associated with a personal failing than an honest opinion?

This lead me into a whole internal debate about the nature of competition, what constitutes ‘healthy’ competition and where does it mutate into the unhealthy?

I believe that humans are naturally competitive and that this is a healthy state. We compete with ourselves, calling it ambition or drive, constantly pushing ourselves to achieve our goals and better ourselves…or we don’t, we become ambivalent or defeatist, convincing ourselves that the fight is already lost, that’s there’s no point even trying….either way it comes down to a naturally competitive instinct and an individual’s way of interpreting it.

We compete with one another, from our earliest days.  I listen to my children’s conversations with their friends: competition is ingrained into every sentence, and yet it’s all very good natured.  I’ve tried to stop them in the past, before realising that there is no malice in what they say, they are merely making observations and comparisons, mentally measuring themselves and finding their way.

Our economy relies on competition; we can walk into any supermarket and choose from a simply boggling array of products.  We NEED to have 20 different washing powders to choose from (obviously). We enjoy making comparisons between Heinz and Branston beans, and fiscally we depend on the revenue that is generated by the competing giants serving us this fare.

And it is in our day-to-day lives where competition is often fiercest.  The competitive parents rutting at the school gate, the mother and toddler gauntlet run, the ballet recital, reading schemes, designer labels, first words, school reports, husband’s promotions, new cars, bigger house…and we compete on the negatives too: biggest mortgage, biggest debt, worst illness, most horrendous labour story, terrible MiL, awful FiL, most annoying parents, most infirm grandparents and so on.

We are never content with being the best at anything, our children also have to be the best, and our pets, and then we also have to have the worst luck, be the most in debt, have the most gory hospital stories to tell, coupled with the most annoying family members in history.

Where does it end?

Can we prevent it happening?

I had a lightbulb moment on the A11.  I wasn’t fooling myself, I had just got a bit confused (all too easily done). It’s not about the competition per se. Although I do think that by denigrating the whole idea of competition we’ve begun to pretend that it doesn’t exist, turning it into the elephant in the corner.  I’m all for embracing competition, giving it it’s rightful place but throwing out it’s PITA second cousins Self Righteousness and Judgementalism, especially when they come hand-in-hand with their half-sister Misplaced Piety.

Because these are the really harmful traits. To compete is healthy, it gives us a benchmark, highlights other opinions that we can factor into bettering ourselves, but to do this without accepting the strengths of your contender is to be self righteous: to believe yourself better without giving the matter due consideration.  To judge a situation or a person under the same circumstances, to allow oneself to believe that they are inferior or undeserving of your respect is equally as unforgivable.

This is a particularly pertinent subject at the moment.  The creation of the MADS2010 blog awards have worried a lot of us.  Is it right to pit us against one another?  Will it all get a bit gladiatorial?

In my moment of clarity I think not.  The consensus so far has been to show an even greater level of appreciation of each other’s blogs than I’ve previously seen.  In order to make my nominations I had to think hard about why the blogs I chose meant so much to me.  I didn’t feel any sense of self righteousness or judgement, just a warm fuzzy feeling that I get to connect with such a talented bunch of people.

I hope that the MADS2010 turns out to be a healthy competition.

My own personal pledge is that in the future I will not pretend to be anti-competition, but neither will I accept or offer unfounded judgements on my own or anyone else’s opinions, families, lifestyles or work.

That’s All 🙂

Who am I fooling?
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29 thoughts on “Who am I fooling?

  • April 6, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    I can’t think of anything to say to that apart from: fab post, Paula! I love it.

  • April 6, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Very interesting post. You are quite right that we do need competition. Unfortunately, in some areas of life it is seen as bad hence so many challenges in school now banned. For me it means that children never get to experience & therefore have suppor,t in losing, not coming first.
    We need to have that as part of our skill set as members of society. It is hard though. I have only nominated one blog because I really enjoy so many & it would defeat the object for me. I do have to admit some green-eyed monster time, some regret for myself time & some ‘don’t be stupid wagging my finger at the mirror time as well with MADS2010!

  • April 6, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    That was a big lightbulb moment and sums up my own opinion, I think (otherwise I have misunderstood!) I believe that competition has its place, and can spur us on to better things, provided nobody gets hurt or undermined in the process. Its the envy that makes it bad. It is lovely to see it expanded on, great post:) Jen.

  • April 6, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    what a fantastic post! I want to stand up and give you a round of applause but the other people in the room might think I’m a bit loopy. Oh what the heck, they should have realised that by now anyway.

    *stands up and claps*

    You see, this is why I nominated you 😉

    Oh, and as an aside, you can get Branston beans? Really?

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Thanks lovely….that 3 hour drive to my parents’ is good ‘mulling’ time x

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Brilliant. Very, very well said. I am full of admiration. Thank you!

    ps to Heather, you can get Branston Beans and we LOVED them but they are suddenly drowning in juice and we are very annoyed…grr

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Thanks Julia. I think you’re absolutely right….we increasingly work on the premise of what is ‘fair’ and this is often translated as anti-competitive…what are the poor little bobs going to do when they go for their first job and find out that they don’t all get it?

    I can empathise about the green-eyed monster as well, but again that’s a natural emotion…I read posts all the time and inwardly growl at how fantastic they are, wishing I’d thought of them first, or that I could write with so much wit. The trick (that you already possess) is to recognise it, to acknowledge and release without letting it burrow its way inside you. x

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Absolutely Jen and thanks. I’ve just responded to Julia above about envy as well…it’s another emotion that I believe can mutate into something harmful if it’s not recognised for what it is. At the source of everything is self awareness….the more tuned in we are to our own emotions and responses, then better we can deal with the situations we find ourselves in. xx

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Okay if I say I had very similar post written in my head would that sound competitive?? Probably!! But seriously it’s been on my mind too. To be honest it is in part to some of the self deprecating posts that have been blogged recently in relation to the MADS. Why does competition make us so negative about ourselves? What you’ve written makes complete sense and hopefully people will read this and think a little differently about the whole experience. I’m glad you beat me to it!! But now can you think of something else for me to write???

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    LOL Heather! Thank you xx

    I’ll be bringing you a 4-pack to the Reading tweet-up, prepare to be turned against Heinz forever 😉

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks Chris, that means a lot…

    …and yes, to the juice…what gives there? But we’re not getting back on the Heinz wagon now! 🙂

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    I love long drives.It helps me to think.
    I have no problem with competition especially when it is based on a skill or something sporty. My problem with competition is where it is personality/popularity based and not based on something specific that you do. I choose to opt out of popularity indexes. I have never been popular and never will be. Yes it makes me bounce off the ceiling with happiness if people say nice things about me (and in this example my blog) but when they don’t include me in the lists it brings home all my weaknesses to me. I would rather not participate than put myself through that.
    So I will race you, have a write-off, a cook-off but don’t ask me to be funnier, nicer or more intelligent than you so that I get votes. I can’t. I am just me.

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Oh Heather I’m sorry…. no reason for you not to write about it too though! Nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition 😉

    But if you’re really not going to have another crack at it (spot the pun) then there’s deffo something to broach with the whole Heinz vs Branston debate! x

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Brilliantly written post. I have spent my working life in one of the most competitive industries in the world and I’m exhausted by it which is why I have no truck with it in motherhood. But it’s hard to escape competition when you’re a parent – even if it’s just trying to get them into a decent school. I know that I felt a slightly sour taste when I managed to get No 1 Son into a good school and other kids weren’t so lucky – some parents were good friends of mine and I felt terrible for them. And funnily enough yesterday I was talking to someone about non-competitive sports days. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, competition is a fact of life (at least in a capitalist society), so all we can do is teach our kids that it’s OK to lose as long as they do their best (at least, that’s how I approach it).
    As far as the MADs go – I think (I hope) that people will just be pleased to have been nominated and will celebrate the achievements of their contemporaries.

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Long drives are the best…I can just feel all the information slotting into place, piece by piece. I understand your point about the popularity thing and the wallflower in me always balks at that idea, but whenever I see you and your blog I think the opposite…you are one of ‘the popular ones’ to me which I suppose shows that it’s all about our own perception.

    Yes to a race-off….I’d love that….which reminds me: It’s Sports Day this term, better get in training for the mother’s day race! 😉

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Fantastic post. I’ve been mulling over my reaction to the MADs (and competition in the blogging world) and I think you’ve summed it up perfectly here. If/when I write my post on it I’ll link to this post. I too am a little envious that I didn’t write it myself! x

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    One of the popular ones..really? how weird. I see myself on the fringe of everything. I am a bit away from school sports days right now but the little one is really starting to get the running bug and can be tough to catch up with sometimes!

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Thanks Liz, you inspired it! I think we all put so much pressure on ourselves at times, and allow ourselves to drown in the negative vibes that we perceive around us- whether they are real or not.

    I do the same with my children, If they’ve tried their best they should be happy and accept the result of that effort, which includes developing the ability to congratulate others who might do better.

    And i agree about the MADS, being nominated is fantastic, and (because I forgot to include it earlier) not being nominated doesn’t mean that you or your blog are not worthy of celebration.


  • April 6, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Well that’s fair Sandy because I feel that way about LOADS of your posts! Thanks for your lovely comment x

  • April 6, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Ha, give her a couple of years more and you’ll be out there in full running kit on those June days! I wonder if we all feel on the fringes, looking in? Does anyone ever feel like they are the hub? I certainly don’t…maybe it’s the only child in me, but I like being on the fringes 🙂

  • April 6, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Great post. You’re right, we’re naturally competitive. My four year old is always talking about winning and being first and being the best. It’s not something he’s picked up from me and my husband. I’m not anti-competitive but I know from experience that competition can bring out an unpleasant side in people. That’s my misgiving about the MADs and I blogged about it last week. In fairness, the MADs has been very honourably handled by everyone so far and I hope it stays that way. To compete in the way you describe is the best way to be, to understand and be complimentary about your competitors. That’s the sort of thing someone who’s confident about themselves can do. Competition can make some people feel threatened and that’s why they handle it badly sometimes. I think I’m rambling now but this is a great post. Hot Cross Mum did one on competition too recently which you might have seen.

  • April 6, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks Emily, I really enjoyed your MADS post but Hot Cross Mum is a new one for me…I’ll go searching now.

    You make a good point about confidence..I’ve talked about self-awareness up above somewhere but I think it boils down to a similar thing. Maybe it’s a chicken and egg scenario? I don’t know how we go about it but maybe through educating about the nature of competition we can help children and adults learn how to approach it… Px

  • April 6, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks Vix, you’re right about laying ourselves bare…and it’s a scary thought that people might be scrutinising and critiquing….I’m pushing that to the back of my mind! More important is that people bother to read, and even better, bother to comment. In the early days (LOL at early days- January!) when people left comments it made me feel exhilarated but sometimes violated if they expressed a different opinion or left an abrupt response. Now it makes me feel great, I love the idea of writing something that generates more than a ‘meh’, and as long as people aren’t abusive I welcome their different opinions. But of course there are equally times when I visit friend’s blogs and see the numbers of people commenting and wonder what I’m doing wrong…..it’s all too easy to let those demons in!

    I’ve a feeling we’ll be doing a lot of putting the world to rights when we meet up xx

  • April 6, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Oh I’m a bit late to this… I found myself nodding along to all of your post and also wanted to applaud 🙂 I’m very proud to “know” you when I read stuff like this x

  • April 6, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    That puts a huge smile on my face 😀 Completely reciprocated too…

    Thank you xxx

  • April 7, 2010 at 8:27 am

    I have to say that I think your blog is very well written in general, not just today.

    (btw have not gotten to Tardis meme yet, but seems, you have not gotten to mine yet either lol)

    I have wondered a lot what makes people more competitive or less competitive. What makes people competitive but not jealous. What makes people competitive but not discouraged at not winning.

    I think a part of it is what you have at stake and what is riding on it for you. When it is something that effects your livelihood (meaning it can be a big boost) then there are more emotions tied to it. When the thing you are competing at is the one thing that you do the best and you perceive “failure”, then that affects you. When you are attaching to many hopes to what a “win” would mean for you then it affects you.

    I also think our feelings are attached to the normal human emotion of wanting to be appreciated by others and liked. Even if you have very high esteem and you are very successful, in some way we all need to feel that.

    With the MADS for instance, I was very pleased for some of my fellow bloggers nominations. I had about 5 minutes of self pity for myself for not being nominated but it passed. Just as it passed I was asked by Sally to make sure I was not British. I am not and thus not eligible. But Sally did tell me I had received a few nominations. For me, like Liz said, that really was just nice for me to hear.

    I also decided to register for a book writing competition which is serious competition and the first round is really just a popularity contest. I said I will do the best to get the votes I need to advance and if I do that will be great, if not then I have learned something from the whole experience. For me the competition is a win win situation.

    I think that is how we have to view competition. Do your best, if it was meant to be it will happen if not then maybe something even better is out there waiting for you.

    Good post.

  • April 7, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Great post and blimey, it certainly seems to be the topic du jour doesn’t it. We must be onto something. You make some excellent points. It will be very interesting to see whether our adult apporach to the MADs continues when the winners (and losers) and announced!

  • April 7, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    Thanks NDNL…. it’s true that some things will affect us much more than others, and I agree about the wanting/needing to be liked and appreciated, however much people may deny it. Good luck in your competition, I’m going to stroll over and vote for you…tried to on my phone earlier but it was all too fiddly! x

  • April 7, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    LOL, yes we’ll see! And in the meantime we can all practice our Oscar losers’ faces in the mirror 😉


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