The benefits of co-operation

From about 1993 to 1999, my relationship with my brother was defined by competition.

The two of us would compete to see who could stuff the most grapes in his or her mouth, who could hold his or her breath the longest and who could run along the most driftwood logs without falling off.

Daniel and I eventually outgrew this phase, however, and it’s a good thing that most adults are able to do so: if such historical partners as Watson and Crick and Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin had felt the same need to place competition over all else, humankind would be much worse off for it.

My esteemed colleague saw fit to bring our running debate to the fray of signed editorials last week and in the interest of friendly exchange of ideas, I figured it would be only fair if I were to do the same. To argue that competition is inherently negative or hostile would be too simplistic; however, I refuse to countenance the assertion that the whole of human achievement stems from competition: in my mind, the opposite is the case. One thing I’ve learned from working at this paper is the way co-operation trumps competition in journalism: the workings of a newspaper depend on the ability of each individual involved in the process to work in sync with one another—the moment one person decides to go it on his or her own, to compete with fellow journalists and approach an article, section or photo from a purely selfpromoting and self-interested perspective, things fall apart.

To deny that competition exists in journalism would be a gross fallacy; to postulate that this competition is ultimately beneficial, however, is crap. In an environment in which people expect to get their news now, if not five minutes ago, all news sources are under pressure to produce results before their competitors, and to make their product easily accessible to what is the lowest common denominator.

This induced competition compromises the quality of the work produced, to say nothing of the deleterious effect of the hypercompetitive atmosphere among individual reporters jockeying for a story. Another easily visible arena of competition is higher education: last summer’s brouhaha over Maclean’s university rankings, and the decision by 22 Canadian universities to drop out, exhibited all the maturity and circumspection of a frustrated six-year-old, and made all parties involved look woefully petty. As students, we’re constantly encouraged to measure ourselves against others based on our marks, convinced that getting higher grades than the next guy is the key to success. I’ve seen first-hand the debilitating effect this competition for marks can have on a student, both in my own experience and from watching my closest friends struggle towards benchmarks set by others, constantly comparing themselves unfavourably to their peers. Far from having a healthy influence on
a person, this competition causes stress and self-disgust and subverts the purpose of higher education: to learn.

So, the next time someone makes fun of you for refusing to race to the end of the block, just tell them you’re trying to save your sanity and make the world a better place.

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