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When Winning Doesn’t Mean Coming in First

See also: Work, Life Balance

For many people, the prospect of outperforming peers and being victorious is the primary drive in life.

Competition is everywhere in our modern world: in school, at work, on the road, in the gym, and more.

By competing against and comparing ourselves with one another, we learn how to improve and earn success.

Except emerging research shows that competition is deleterious in many ways. With children, competition serves to dissolve self-confidence and spread self-doubt, even among frequent winners who learn to become dependent on external sources of validation. Among adults, competition leads directly to hostility and greed, both of which are the enemies of progress.

If we want to advance our society and ourselves, we must learn that competition is not the path to victory — cooperation is.


Cooperation in School

When Winning Doesn’t Mean Coming in First

Education is filled with competition, from the inherent comparison of grades to the incidental playground games.

Traditionally, parents and teachers alike have believed that exposing children to harsh competition early on will prepare them for competition in adulthood. However, many researchers have found that encouraging cooperation in the classroom actually leads to greater, more lasting achievement among students.

Studies into cooperative learning have shown that working in small groups toward a common goal instructs children more appropriately for their roles in the business world, which is becoming increasingly team-oriented. Additionally, obligatory interaction with peers fosters the acquisition of invaluable social skills such as leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication and more. Plus, exposure to various kids will help children gain open minds to background, skills, and appearance, which could help to end bullying.

Unfortunately, there are many enemies to using cooperative groups in the classroom who claim that ever-increasing class sizes — caused by low school budgets, pitifully few teachers, and other issues — prevent teachers from knowing their students and grouping them appropriately for effective learning.

Yet, cooperative learning is even more effective in financially ailing schools as teams of students require fewer resources than one-on-one education. The benefits to cooperation in schools seem endless, demonstrating that first and last place do not matter as long as everyone gains something from the race.


Cooperation in Business

Capitalism, the basis of our American economy, is built upon a foundation of competition.

Most businesses hold strong beliefs in the power of the competitive market to keep sales high, prices low, and customers happy. Staunch capitalists assert that competition encourages companies to improve constantly, pushing progress farther and faster and building a better society overall.

In truth, a little competition can be exceedingly positive for any industry, as evidenced by the reprehensible behavior and nearly unrestrained influence of late 19th century monopolies. However, being the first to do something doesn’t ensure a company’s success. For example, Alexander Graham Bell certainly wasn’t the first man to imagine the telephone; an Italian named Antonio Meucci actually patented the technology first, but Bell’s superior eye for business earned him the fame, glory, and ultimate market supremacy.

In business, it is more important to demonstrate strength over the long term than it is to be the earliest adopter — which is perhaps why the U.S. awards trademark to businesses who most closely associate with the assets rather than those who use or file first. Additionally, too much competition spells disaster within an industry, saturating the market and preventing economic benefits — and sometimes even causing an unexpected drop in values, as with the housing market bubble of our lifetime.

True cooperation can benefit businesses in a number of ways. Like children in the classroom, employees who work together are more likely to increase production and innovate, usually in ways more advanced than competition allows. However, more importantly, cooperation with fellow businesses and interaction with alternative business models is the only way to endure beyond the five-year mark. Thus, businesses looking for longevity should rethink the “survival of the fittest” mantra.

Cooperation at Work

Cooperation at Home

It can be enjoyable to have a partner who is challenging, who always pushes for success and strives for victory.

Having a constant competitor in your life can encourage you to reach your full potential — but more often, any relationship built on competition, including both romantic and platonic bonds, is doomed to fail.

In essence, competitive relationships are toxic and draining for both parties. Usually, competitors fail to praise others’ achievements, provide comfort during difficult periods, and be vulnerable to allow closer connection — all of which are indispensable for a lasting, healthy relationship. People need honesty, support and tolerance, and competition provides none of these. In contrast, cooperation necessitates these qualities, which means it is vital at home and throughout one’s personal life. By working together, family and friends develop a network of stress release that better prepares everyone for stresses endured outside the home.

When it comes to love, cooperation can take various forms. At its most basic, having a cooperative relationship means working with rather than against one’s significant other. For example, two partners may divvy up the house chores equally and finish them together — instead of refusing to complete any housework or struggling to complete more to gain superiority, as might happen in a competitive relationship. Cooperative lovers also eschew compromise, which usually leaves one or both parties unhappy despite an agreement.

Additionally, couples should strive to cooperate emotionally to build a stronger bond. One study from the University of Arizona suggests that men and women tend to react differently to their partners’ feelings: Men experience an inphase, matching their partners’ emotional states, while women experience an antiphase, opposing their partners’ moods. By working to understand sentiments and react sincerely, partners can feel more emotionally connected to one another.

Cooperation is not an idealistic activity only for the pure of heart. Anyone can — and everyone should — strive to cooperate in every facet of his or her life. The joy that comes from competitive victory can be cruel and unproductive, especially when it works against the goals of others. While friendly competition can be enjoyable every now and again, we can build a stronger, happier, wealthier, and all-around happier society by cooperating with one another at school, at work, and at home.

About the Author


Tiffany Rowe is a marketing administrator who assists in contributing resourceful content throughout the World Wide Web. Tiffany prides herself in her ability to provide high quality content that readers will find valuable.

She often enjoys photography, researching new trends and D.I.Y crafting.

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