Healthy competition

Over the course of my relatively short life, I have participated in numerous different activities from figure skating and tennis to computer camp and creative writing class. And I have recently discovered the common thread linking my vast array of interests: I’m not happy unless I’m competing.

After the latest round of an ongoing debate with a fellow Journal kid, I decided it was time to find out what it is that compels me to constantly measure my progress against that of the people around me. I came to the conclusion that there is nothing so singularly beneficial to the world than the impulse to be the best.

It has long been accepted that competition is a healthy and even necessary part of a child’s development and, despite my colleague’s vehement arguments, there is nothing inherently antagonistic about the principle of competition. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb “to compete” derives from the Latin verb competere. The prefix com-, meaning together, combined with the verb petere, meaning to aim at or strive for, means competition is just the desire of two parties to
achieve greater heights.

Take the newspaper business. The perpetual competition for more depth, more accuracy and more interesting stories has led to the virtually non-stop flow of news available to the public. The constant striving of reporters to dig deeper than their competitor has also dramatically increased the transparency of government organizations such as the military. During the Vietnam War, reporters from the New York Times, the Associated Press, the Washington Post and others worked side by side, challenging each other to reveal the government’s plans and actions, forcing leaders to take responsibility for the consequences.

It’s competition in business that drives the economy. Competition in academia forces universities to raise their standards, challenging students and professors to meet them.

And far from pushing people apart, some of the most inspiring instances of human unity have come out of competition. The Olympic Games, arguably the greatest athletic contest on Earth, is a perfect example. At the 2006 Winter Games, two separate teams competed under the names South Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. But during the opening ceremonies, both teams marched
together under one flag, the Korean Unification flag, in the Parade of Nations. They were able to put aside generations of animosity and violence, if only for a few weeks, for the sake of honouring the tradition of something bigger. Granted, there are a few exceptions to the rule. In such fields as medical research, the sharing of findings is crucial to the speed of development of new medications.

But the impulse to work towards faster, more effective and less expensive solutions is ever present.

So the next time you’re playing shinny and someone asks you why you want to keep score, just tell them the future of the world is at stake.

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