How Wise Is the Spirit of Competition?
THIS is a highly competitive world in which we live. Observed a New York Times editorial of June 25, 1969: “The competition is beginning earlier and increasing all the time: to get into the best schools, to get into the best universities, and to meet the tests of a compulsive and driving society.”
But is this fiercely competitive spirit good? Is it wise to stir up competition with one another? Do you enjoy the association of highly competitive persons?
When there are efforts to outshine others, to prove that one is better, bad effects usually result. Friendships are strained. There are frustrations and tensions. Family relations often are adversely affected. And persons frequently overtax themselves in their quest to get ahead. Such bad effects have been noted by persons in the business world.
Said one cabinet member in the United States government: “I had never realized what a toll the fierce competition of American business and professional life has taken on many of our most talented and successful men. Many of them have simply been worn out in the struggle. . . . In a great many cases, they have taken to drink.”
This fierce competition has also been damaging to many persons connected with sports. Not infrequently coaches and players alike suffer physically and mentally from the pressure. Also, due to the prevalent attitude that one must ‘win at any cost,’ brutal and unethical practices commonly are condoned and even encouraged.
For example, modern drugs are now used extensively by athletes to improve performance. Some drugs help users to remain hyperactive when ordinarily they would be slowed by fatigue. Although prohibited by Olympic regulations, one athlete observed: “A lot of us used a new drug from West Germany. Officials couldn’t pick it up in the test they gave. When they get a test for that one, we’ll find something else.”
Regarding the situation in professional football, one trainer said: “Some of the pros need almost a full week to get over getting pepped up for Sunday. Afterward, they must either have tranquilizers or whiskey to bring them down. So they move through a cycle: pepped up, drunk, hung over, depressed, then pepped up again.”
The spirit of competition also produces damaging effects on fans. On occasion they riot, injure and even kill. In Turkey in 1967 a disputed goal in a soccer game sparked a riot, leaving forty-two dead and 600 injured. Also, success in soccer games has reportedly contributed to “the most intense wave of nationalism in the recent history of Peru.” And the New York Times observed: “Various international bodies are still trying to heal the scars left by the recent war between Honduras and El Salvador that started with a soccer match.”
It is understandable, therefore, why God’s Word urges Christians to avoid the spirit of competition, saying: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.”—Gal. 5:26.
The Greek word here rendered “stirring up competition” is often translated “provoking.” (AV, AS, Dy, Mo) However, it means more than that. According to Greek-English lexicons, it means “to call forth,” “to challenge to a combat or contest with one.” Thus, An American Translation has the rendering: “Let us not in our vanity challenge one another.” And the footnote of the 1950 edition of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures offers the alternative: “Forcing one another to a showdown.”
Persons frequently do this. They challenge others, endeavoring to force them to a showdown. The motive is to prove oneself better, thus to put the other fellow down. The attitude is, “We will find out who is best.” This is stirring up competition. It is basically the same spirit exercised by the bully Goliath, who called out: “Am I not the Philistine and you servants belonging to Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. . . . Give me a man, and let us fight together!”—1 Sam. 17:8-10.
But despite its prevalence today, the spirit of competition is not wise. It does not create good relations. For instance, if you are forced to a showdown and defeated and the victor boasts of the outcome, how do you feel? It can be humiliating, can it not? Stirring up competition is not showing love for neighbor.
What, then, about playing games? In this case much depends on the spirit that the players show. Are they trying to stir up competition? Or are they simply having a good time playing? Since it is easy to stir up the spirit of competition in games and sports, some may desire to look for ways to play games that eliminate or minimize the element of competition.
Noting the competitive spirit that dominates worldly organized sports, many persons on learning Christian principles have refused to share in them. They no longer want to be infected by the unchristian spirit of competition. This is the desire of natives who recently learned Bible truths on the Pacific island of Ponape. A representative writes: “The group here has dropped the fierce interdistrict pride, which is particularly apparent during . . . interdistrict athletic events.”
It is wise for Christians to examine their attitudes and motives. Have you been infected by the world’s fiercely competitive spirit? Do you call forth or challenge persons? Have you the desire to show that you are better? Be honest with yourself, and do your utmost to heed the Bible encouragement: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another.”—Gal. 5:26.