Competition

I have never been a fan of professional sports. Maybe I should say, I’ve never been a fan of most professional sports (I like curling). I think way too much time, energy, and money is spent on sports. Kids are started out young, in school, playing sports. They want you to go out for sports, get on the team. High school sports are very competitive, they have Pep rally’s, which you can get out of class to attend, they decorate the school with the team colors, and the players are treated like heroes. They tell you that sports teach kids a lot of good life lessons which is true, I suppose, but those lessons, like the team approach, sportsmanship, and the like can be taught and learned without once setting foot and a field. Even the word, “sportsmanship,” which entails cooperation, good faith, decency, honesty, etc., has “sports” as part of the word. People love their teams, dress in their jerseys, and make whole days wrapped around a sporting event. Billions of dollars are spent each year on, and because of, sports. The question is, why?

Why do people love sports so much? Why do they love competition? Why do they love to win, which means making someone else, lose? Why is it important to be the best? The answer to that question is simple. Ego, that’s why. Specifically, the male ego. Since humans have walked the Earth, the male ego has been one of, if not the, most fragile thing in existence.

When I was in grade school, I a was skinny, scrawny kid. I was one of the last to get picked for the team. You remember that, right? The teacher, during gym class would pick two students to be team captains. They were always the strongest, most athletic kids in your class. Always. They would then pick their fellow students, one by one, to be on their team. I was picked last, or second to last, every time. Not only was I not good at sports, I just didn’t care. Even as a child I was compassionate and empathetic. I didn’t want to win, because it made someone else lose. And being a loser felt bad. I knew that because I took a lot of shit from my classmates for how lousy I was at sports. I didn’t even like to play cards or board games because if I won, it means someone else lost. I hated it. It made me feel bad to make someone else feel bad. At sixteen I was in a car accident and broke my back. After a couple months of recuperation I was back at school with a shiny new note from my Doctor, permanently excusing me from gym class. It was one of the happiest days of my young life.

When my son was in the sixth grade, he joined the Chess club in school. The kids played each other, and had competitions with other schools. His school, did nothing to celebrate this. No Pep rally’s, no banners, no hero worship. They piled on a bus to go to their competitions, like other kids did, and there were no parents there to see them off, no fellow students. When they came home with a trophy, there was no celebration. I was the only parent who went to the chess team’s meets. It was a joy to watch these kids play. They studied hard, they played well. After each match they would come to the cafeteria and play through their game. They would play speed chess with each other, talk about a particularly brilliant move they made, or about something their opponent did which they learned from. It was a lot of fun for me to be a part of. Later, he joined the swim team in high school and I went to all his home meets.

Travis, (my son) taught me how to play chess. Naturally, he beat me every time. I learned a lot from playing him and the first time I won against him, he was visibly upset. That wasn’t supposed to happen. As we grow we learn and I do win once in a while. He doesn’t get upset and neither do I. Lately he’s been pointing me to some videos online to learn from. I’m doing pretty good. I have a chess app on my phone and I win most of my games.

But, back to the ego. Winning is good, losing is bad. This is what you’re taught. This is what you learn. When I studied Buddhism I learned that there is no such thing as good or bad. Everything is just what it is, but it becomes good or bad when you decide that it’s good or bad. Once you gain mastery over your ego, winning becomes unimportant. That is where I live. Winning is unimportant. I would definitely not have made a good business person. I realize now, that I thought like a Buddhist in grade school. I could never understand why it was so important for some kids to win, to be the best, to be congratulated by others and thought of as great. I just didn’t get it. First of all, I didn’t want the attention. I didn’t want everyone looking at me, noticing me. I didn’t want the responsibility and the stress of maintaining an image. I had no interest in being a leader. I just wanted to get through my school day so I could get out of there and enjoy my life. As an adult in the working world, I have had positions of authority but I was never happy with that. I was happiest when I could go to work, do my job and remain anonymous. I only went to school, or work because I had to. My life was out there, away from school, away from work.

If we didn’t have an ego, we would probably just lay down and die. The ego, a form of selfishness, or self preservation, keeps us alive. So we need it to survive and thrive. What we don’t need to do is feed our ego on a diet of winning and besting. We don’t need to be the best, or the greatest. or the most popular. It is totally unnecessary for life and actually creates stress that is harmful to our health. We should treat our ego as the fragile thing that it is, but only feed it enough to survive on. There’s nothing wrong with being average. I play chess. I do it, and I enjoy it. That’s what’s important.

4 comments

  1. Yes, cooperation is so much better than competition (said by someone who played sports through all of high school, college and even was on a bowling team as an adult!). I hate the idea that there are “winners” and “losers” and that it’s better to be a winner than a loser.

    On the other hand, I loved being part of a team–there’s so much to be said for that feeling of belonging to the team, that you depend on each other.

    I love that you went to chess matches, that you supported your son and that you and he are still learning from each other. That’s so cool.

    I also think that the Buddhists are wise–nonattachment to outcomes is the best way to live. And “it is what it is” is also a good way to evaluate things. As Pema Chodron is fond of saying, things just are. It’s our judgments that make them “good” and “bad.”

    Merry Christmas and Happy, healthy New Year to you my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A lot of meat here, Butch. I agree with subtext of much of it – that part about feeding the ego and the damage that can cause. My own experience with competition was different than yours. I hated coming in second, but only when I could tell that there was more in me (a strategy, conditioning, drive) that would have had me swim / climb faster / harder. Physical activity was a personal journey for me, it was part of the human condition. As such it felt as if every bit of it tugged on my soul. I’m interested and saddened by what you have to say about gym classes. I always thought that the way sides were chosen in gym class was bullshit. It felt very lazy on the part of the gym teachers and that laziness manifest itself as cruelty for the students, a point I doubt gym teachers could fathom.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just wasn’t interested in sports, in competition, in being better than anyone. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. It wasn’t a problem being picked last, I didn’t want to be there and they didn’t want me so it was mutual disregard. For some kids I can see how it would hurt, if your ego was easily bruised.

      Like

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