Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Competition and Rivalry

What is competition? What is rivalry? What is the difference between competition and rivalry? In my thought, rivalry is competition gone out of control that the person exercising rivalry has hatred or envy in his heart towards the person with whom he deals. This can lead to violence which is mortal. Let's look at a few stories from the Bible. Was Cain competing with his brother Abel? Or did he kill him because he was envious that God accepted Abel's offering but not his? (Genesis 4). Was Jacob so envious of Essau that he stole Essau's birthright? (Genesis 25). Of course he knew that with the birthright of the elder comes the blessing of their father. Siblings rivalry of twins is well known in psychology. But how far can rivalry go?

A view from anthropology:
The primitive man did not have to think of anything other than his own survival. He was naturally endowed with the mechanisms that would help him reproduce through mating but he also had to fetch food to eat and to feed the little family that relied on him. That was fine until he found other men competing with him for the same prey. Competition was born out of need for survival. With the growth of agriculture, tribes settled in fertile lands.  When the resources are not sufficient for all, competition rises. Over millennia, transition took place from the Stone Age, farming and the Agriculture Revolution to the Industrial Age which forced many people to adapt in order to survive. The Information Age today is the most demanding of the human mind as manual work is becoming less required and thinking in abstracts is becoming more demanded. The arrival of robotics and artificial intelligence technology has ushered a new age. Historically too, universities competed to retain the best minds for research. Competition that results in some kind of reward is an incentive of advancing and earning better marks in school, and in jobs, but when competition becomes my preoccupation, I lose my inner peace.

When my tribe or nation conspires with other nations to conquer the land or properties of others, competition becomes rivalry and rivalry leads to greed and, in the end, to destruction. The desire to possess what is not mine at the personal level (even if I do not need it and especially when someone else desires it) has been identified in the "Mimetic Rivalry" Theory discovered by R. Girard. For more information see my lecture about his research here and the Girardian Imitatio. More to the point is the relationship between husband and wife. Who, after marriage, desired at one time another person to be his/her mate? Who of the men actually has approached another woman even if she was already married? Who found out that another rival was having an affair with his wife or her husband but was able to forgive both. Siblings usually desire each other's things. Is this innocent or does it mean that each of them wants to possess the other?

In modern society many factors contributed to its own weakness and eventual dissolution. The rise of radical feminism together with world wars (in which nations lost many men) contributed to the demands that women work in factories and offices. The social scandals of prostitution are common in many cases of violent treatment of women by their men. As a result women demanded independence from men's authority at home with support of the government. The independence of women meant the end of the traditional family.  This is only one of many forms that led to rivalry, greed, individualism, and more selfishness.

In business, excessive competition leads to rivalry at a greater scale when smaller firms are swallowed by larger firms or when government imposes its own political agenda on all citizens. The U.S. Liberal Government has imposed legal regulations that facilitate abortion and artificial contraceptives on Catholic hospitals in the U.S. although these regulations are opposed to the Catholic moral conscience.

The globalization of business has created job opportunities for some but also caused job losses to others. Is this the result of technology? Is this the result of rivalry and greed when big firms outsource offshore services in India and China so that they can reduce expenses at home?

Islam and Christianity are particularly rivals in trying to bring more people to their own. In the last few years we have witnessed the spread of violence in almost all countries where Muslims are a majority. The raging war in Syria is a real catastrophe that erupted because of rivalry between two branches of Islam Shiite and Sunni. Of course both America and its rival Russia rushed to increase their influence and opposing interests at the expense of millions of displaced refugees and thousands of dead victims. In his Clash of Civilizations Samuel Huntington warned that Islam remains the greatest threat to the civilized West. But which moral compass does the West have?

Within Christianity, rivalry coupled with jealousy existed since the beginning. The first four Ecumenical Councils testify to rivalry between the Sees of Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch and probably Rome too. But even within the Catholic Church, rivalries exist. In the aftermath of Vatican II, the French Archbishop Marcel Lefbvre  defied the Council's decisions and created a rival Society of St. Pius X  He was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II when he ordained bishops in defiance of Canon Law.  Pope Benedict XVI attempted to reconcile his followers but they remained in schism.

And I look at my role at the Knights of Columbus. I see myself rival to others who wish to serve the way they perceive service should be delivered. In spite of collaboration, we remain prisoners of ourselves. In the same lecture in which I presented the above ideas, we showed a video of the entrance in the first Mass celebrated by prelates at Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in San Antonio. Here it is: But why did we show it? We thought this is an example of serving the other that should distract us from rivalry. However, I believe that deep inside we wanted to show off that Jesus the King Council won the international award for youth service of the Knights of Columbus. What a clap we wanted and really got...Deeper still the entire video is probably a show off by the Knights of Columbus of how great they are in serving the Catholic Church and the community. The fact that Cardinals and Bishops were invited to be in one place and concelebrate Mass then eat dinner together tells me of the wild spending in America on such celebrations that are already forgotten in heads of attendees except in the heads of the Supreme Knight and his assistants. Competition is an essential element for rewarding people but when it goes overboard, it  breeds rivalry and selfishness in the same people who are supposed to serve. How about those poor who are unable to celebrate as they still continue to be threatened by war in Syria and other countries in Africa? Does the Catholic Church need to show off that she serves others? Does her grandieuse overshadows the teachings of her Lord? Do the Pope and Cardinals need to wear red shoes and shiny red robes? Thank God we have in Francis a Pope that is closer to the concerns of ordinary people.

When asked what things we can do to help alleviate rivalry, one guy said spiritual exercises and another said prayers. Probably we need these and above all to go back to fasting so that we can taste the emptiness and limits of man. We cannot deny the good in serving the others nor the good in moderate competition as long as they remain within the spiritual thirst for God and helping humanity.

May God protect man from himself. Moral values mean taking care of the other even if I am hurt.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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