Cooperation or Competition: Which is the true key to human evolution and why does it matter?

Does anybody else out there remember the first time you were told that you have to compete to “make it” in the world? I don’t remember the exact date and time, but I do remember that it was some time in Junior High School that I was introduced to the concept of Competition—the Survival of the Fittest. I remember being admonished not to help someone with studying for a test because the test would be graded on a curve and I would be hurting my own chances of an “A” by helping enable someone else to score high. I remember the depression that settled over me as I struggled to come to terms with being in competition with my friends. I felt physically wounded. The beauty of friendship had been sucked out of my young life, leaving me in a dark vortex of confusion and sadness. All these years later, I still remember the anxiety of asserting my free will and choosing to reject conventional wisdom. I decided that my friends were more important to me than having the best grade and that I would follow my heart’s lead. A life of worrying about competing was a soul-numbing concept. I wanted the best for everyone and believed that it was possible to participate in making the world a place that was kinder than the dog-eat-dog scenario being pushed on me in the name of science.

As the years progressed, that choice affected the development of my character in every area of my life. Rejecting the dominant theory of the day caused me to question authority. It led me to filter all incoming information through my own sense of right and wrong and to trust my own conscience.

For example, the Jim Crow Laws were still in effect during my adolescent years, and I spent summers on my grandparents’ farm in Hope, Arkansas. My mother had raised us to treat others as we would like to be treated—regardless of skin color or religion. But my grandparents were Southern racists. I knew in my bones that those laws were an outrage. I realized during those long summers that to oppose unjust laws would be, for me, a moral imperative—I just simply knew I was in the right, and that strong conviction would affect how I viewed authority during the Vietnam War years and beyond.

My adolescence was also overshadowed by the Cold War…we were taught that there was a constant threat of nuclear annihilation from the Soviet Union (never was there a suggestion that our own huge nuclear stockpile might be considered a threat to another country—we were most definitely the good guys). I was led to believe that Communists didn’t value life as we do—they were capable of anything because they were Godless robots who wanted only to conquer the world and deprive us all of our freedom. At the same time that I was being fed this rubbish, I was learning in church that God loves us all and that we are all His children…a very contradictory message indeed. I believed the bit about God loving us all, and suspected that the Russians were more human than the media painted them.

And then I hit a course in Study of World Literature and discovered the Russian writers…talk about having my suspicions confirmed! I laughed and cried through countless classic Russian novels and never again worried about Communism sucking the souls out of the Russians. From their literature it was obvious that they had an abundance of Soul! I formulated the idea that once they (the Russians) had their basic needs met, they would want TVs, transistor radios, and all the other luxuries the developing world possessed. It made sense to me that they (and the Chinese) would move toward some form of capitalism, and also that we, the Western World, would have to move toward some form of socialism in order to create an equitable, sustainable lifestyle (such as the health care and education system that the countries of the EU enjoy).

I should be very clear that I am not referring to sports or board games, etc. when I speak of competition. I am referring to a pattern of behavior that promotes individual gain over the needs of others. Like most things, it all boils down to Intention. The music business is competitive, but music is art and the musician must stay true to his/her own vision in order to create. If you set out to write the “best” song ever written, you might have a hit, but it will never be more than a contrived bauble at best. Of course, a musician may write from his soul and create a huge hit that survives through the years…think Bob Dylan or Neil Young or the Eagles—the list of artists in rock ‘n roll is a long one. The difference between contrivance (fear) and creation (love) is Intention. Competition is the offspring of fear. Fear is the opposite of love.

We choose what to believe. Yes, there are many factors that go into our choices, from our adult life experiences, our childhoods, our economics, health, wealth, etc., but our beliefs are nonetheless, choices. So, the question is: Do we live our lives from a place of love, or fear? Do we choose to believe that there is enough for everyone and work toward making that vision a reality, or do we choose to fear that there aren’t enough ‘A’s to go around, so we should step on people to get to the top of the class?

There is now some thinking among scientists that perhaps humans evolved by learning to cooperate with each other. The people who survived were not the cruelest, but rather those who were able to share with others and live in communities. These people had a better chance of survival because they could pool their skills and create defenses from predators and the elements. They could hunt better as a team and gather more food in bands. They were there to help each other protect and instruct their offspring. Art arose from village life—dance, song, drawing, painting…culture.

What kind of world are we creating with our choices? Will the earth be able to recover from the assault on its resources during the past century? Are we perpetuating the idea that we should fear differences? Or are we cultivating the idea that peace is possible—that there is enough for all—that we can be optimistic about the future? What do you think? Cooperation or competition? I would welcome all feedback in the Comments section.

This entry was posted in This and That. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Cooperation or Competition: Which is the true key to human evolution and why does it matter?

  1. (To leave a comment here, I’ve written my black text then copy pasted into the blog as comments section shows as white text–it will work!.) The way you’ve described competition dating back to “curve” grading; then, reading as I hear you say you discovered beauty within the Russian literature during a time we all should have been questioning authority, are windows to the idea that cooperation seems much wiser than competition. I will imagine a world working together, health insurance for all.

  2. Farah says:

    absolutely marvelous

  3. Ed Reed says:

    Hi Jeannette. Curious word, “competition”. I find it relative to a perspective of about 5 degrees, with no real horizons. To me, if I may, competing came naturally to me in the sense that I was different. I never aspired, yet walked some halls of power. I never thought of myself as particularly attractive to women, yet I was because I was “different”. Gates of opportunity and adventure opened for the same reason.
    At least, this is my rationale and of course I consider myself anti social in the rejection of any paradigms laid out for me. Guys in Armani’s and tassled loafers would wonder who the hell I was, as I got privy to inner councils and got drunk with the jefes.
    You see, I never wanted anything someone else had, including their women, possessions and positions. Well…hmmmmm…it sometimes got confusing, the women part.

    Of course now I got nothing but my own sense of being, which really hasn’t changed since I was 12. Yet…the next adventure looms, the opportunities emerge even in this beautiful end of the world place I live in.

    Oh. Did I mention friendships enduring for 40 years, as the ones that know me indulge my weaknesses as they garner my assets?

    To me, true “competition” is the willingness to share everything…and still lead a life of promise and good intent. It starts for me with this premise. I owe you and the world two things. Good heart and good intent. The rest? Just the foibles of being human.

Leave a Reply to Ed Reed Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *