Although competitiveness is often glorified, it is actually very harmful both to our spiritual development and also to our relationships. There are two fundamental problems with competitiveness: The first is that we give too much prominence to our ego, considering ourselves to be more important than others. The second is that we become overly attached to what are often very trivial matters. Both of these contradict the premises of spirituality and will cause conflict in our daily lives.
Competitiveness comes in many forms. The classic one is to be obsessed with winning. Competitive people want to win in even the most trivial of matters, such as a game of tiddlywinks. Of course, there is nothing wrong with competing for fun, but only provided that we are not genuinely concerned with the result. If we find ourselves experiencing a sense of deflation when we lose, then we have a problem. In the first place there is the sheer absurdity of the situation. We are letting our self-worth be defined by our ability to play tiddlywinks. Second, we are failing to respect our opponent’s desire to also win the game. We are somehow considering ourselves to be more important, and thus considering our own success to be more desirable.
We must counter these notions by recognizing the equality between all beings. We must recognize that this concept of ego, the concept of “I”, is nothing more than a mental fabrication, and should not be put up on a pedestal. We must learn to rejoice in the accomplishments of others, and understand that we can all succeed and be happy when we work together. This concept may initially be easiest to see with our friends (with whom, ironically, we often compete the most), and can then be extended to all beings.
We can also counter competitiveness by keeping the bigger picture in mind and not becoming attached to one tiny area of our life. Our self-worth is not defined by our ability to play tiddlywinks, or tennis, or even by our ability to ace exams. We must put these qualities alongside qualities such as kindness to others, and see that they are not so important. Then we may be less obsessed with whatever we are competing about.
Remember, competitiveness is not restricted to playing a game. It also manifests as a desire to be right in an argument, which can once again be over something trivial such as the definition of a word. It may arise as jealousy – perhaps that our friend is more popular than we are. It also arises as the desire to be the acknowledged expert on a subject: For example, we wish to be the one to demonstrate the correct golf swing – we do not want our equally accomplished friend to demonstrate it.
Thus, we must be on the lookout for competitiveness in all areas of our life. We must constantly be on guard for jealousy and attachment. When we find that our pride is hurt, or that our relationships are burdened with conflict, competitiveness is probably present. In such situations, we must counter it in the way described.