Cooperation or competition?

Youth should be encouraged to cooperate and understand that the goal is to benefit all. But we can still use the idea of sports competition to find the best ways to move forward.


For better or worse, the United States seems sold on “competition” as the best way to organize society.  We tout individuality as the best way to improve our lives and our country.  We celebrate the cowboy and the Wild West.  Much of this is the opposite of the way other societies function.

Are there benefits to competition?  Yes, of course, there are.  We can see this in our competitive sports – people do their best to “win.”  This makes for better bodies (although sometimes worse, when competitors overstrain their physical being in an attempt to prevail).  The goal here should be to improve strength and skill – not for the benefit of the individual, but for the betterment of all of us.

Are there benefits to cooperation?  Think of the colonies of ants.  When a single ant discovers a food source, it doesn’t keep it hidden for its own benefit.  Rather, it carries what it can back to the nest, even as it leaves a trail on scent so that its comrades can help in harvesting the food.

Compare this to the way that our economy operates.  Individuals are encouraged to strive for their own principal benefit.  As they struggle, they earn benefits for their families.  Indirectly, what they invent and develop benefits the society.  All that is to the good.  But the bad part is that they are taught that they should protect and savor their personal earnings, so they guard them carefully and many times refuse to invest those earnings further because they want to keep them for themselves.

In our society, we believe that the decisions made by individuals as to the investment of their own property are the best decisions.  Many times these are the best decisions.  But these decisions also cause a lack of wealth being shared with the entire society.  So we have the division between the rich and the poor.

In a truly cooperative society, one can have the benefits of competition together with the benefits of cooperation.  Example: socialist societies have good competitive sports teams.  In effect, they have both.  Decisions as to how property should be best invested to create more can be done by individuals, but for the benefit of the society.  It’s all a matter of having ways of selecting who is best suited to make such decisions.  Individuals can be encouraged within a cooperative society to work hard and do things that benefit the collective.  (The ants are a good example).  

How can we use competition within a cooperative society to benefit all?  For example, suppose that we think that the system of garbage collection is done poorly.  We could hold a contest (like a sporting event) to see who comes up with the best way of improving the system.  I’m sure that if we did that, someone would come up with a better way to do it.  We should use the sports system as a way of improving other parts of the society.  The “winners” get trophies and accolades, and the society as a whole benefits from the result.

In other words,  youth should be encouraged to cooperate and understand that the goal is to benefit all.  But we can still use the idea of sports competition to find the best ways to move forward.  We can provide rewards and praise as a means of getting people to do their best.  And by doing that we can all benefit.


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