I started my laps at the YMCA and this time envisioned the druidic rune Othala again. With my mind, I drew the diamond with the little tails hanging down at the bottom in front of me and swam through it.
I found myself in a beautiful English
garden. I’ve never been in one actually, but I’ve seen pictures with
all the varieties of colors and shapes lining a sidewalk, bursting in
colors and smells. A brick path meanders and I follow it to a bench
underneath a towering oak tree with heavy, outstretched limbs. I
glance down at what I am wearing and it appears like a soft cotton
shell sundress that falls down just above my knees, so perfect for a
walk in an English garden.
I sat down and noticed Sri sunning
himself, stretched out on his back in a soft pile of deep green moss.
He did a complete body stretch so that his whiskers down to his toes
shook as he flexed every muscle in his body in one move. He then
stood up, arched his back for yet another body stretch, then came
over to me and leapt up to a short wall so he was at eye level with
As before, he spoke with his mind to
mine. Because he was technically speaking, I will continue with
quotation marks. “Today let us talk about the purpose of
competition. Just what is competition?”
I started. “Well, I suppose it’s two
sides trying to outperform each other. It usually involved moving a
ball of some sort around a field or court or boundary of some kind.
One team wins, and the other loses.”
“Let’s focus on the winners and
losers. Why is that important?”
I thought on that for a moment. It
seemed so obvious. Winning was much more important than losing.
Everyone knew that. The whole point of competition was winning. I
thought this would become a very short conversation. “Well, the
winner means they are successful. They are better in some way than
the other team.”
“So being better than someone else is
the goal of competition?” Why is this so? What does it feel like to
“Why it feels glorious. It is a
wonderful high. It is exhilarating. It is the whole point of the
“So why keep competing over and over
again? Isn’t it enough to just say to yourself, ‘I’ve experienced
that, so I can experience other things now?’ You could go experience
losing, for instance.”
“But no one wants to lose,” I
responded. “Losing is painful. Losing is shameful. You just want to
crawl under a blanket and sleep if you lose.”
“Hmm,” expressed Sri, which sounded
like a stuck purr to me. “Then winning is good and losing is bad.
When did you learn that?”
I thought for a moment back to grade
school. “Well, in third grade, we started playing dodge ball in gym
class once a week.”
“Tell me more about that.”
“Well, half the class was put on one
side of the gym and the other side on the other side of the gym.” I
remembered we had a very small gym, designed for little people. It
could be called a “half court” gym, with the room being about
twenty x 40 feet. “Then, a big red rubber ball was tossed to one
side to begin the game. They threw the ball at the other side, and if
the ball hit someone before it touched the back wall of the gym, that
person was out and had to sit along the sides of the court. Then the
ball is picked up and thrown back to the other side of the court.
The game continues until there is just one person left standing.”
“Very curious game. And what did you
“That winning was better.”
“Explain what made it better.”
I thought it was obvious. “Because
you can stay in the game longer.”
“Why is staying in the game better?”
“Because you can continue with that
excitement, that high of being in the game.”
“What about those who were hit by the
ball? Was it exciting to sit on the side and watch the game?”
“Maybe for some it might be exciting.
There could be a really fast student that was clever and could jump
and avoid the ball. Then people would cheer him on. But for others,
after a while the game was boring and they just would sit and chat
with their friends.”
“You mentioned that was a game in the
third grade. What sorts of games did you play before then?”
I looked up at the tree, then thought,
“well, we had a little spinning merry-go-round on our playground.
We would each grab a hold of a metal bar, then jump on it and then
spin around and around.”
“Was it exciting?”
“Why yes! Very exciting.” I could feel my heart skip a beat as I recalled the excitement.
“Were there any winners or losers?”
“I suppose we all were winners. We
all laughed and enjoyed it.”
Sri then raised his eyebrows, or in
this case, the whiskers above his eyes moved up and out so they
resembled eyebrows. “So, it’s possible to enjoy without
“Maybe for little kids, perhaps. You
outgrow playing like that, I suppose. Competing and winning is
“Why is it better? Let’s go back to
where you were taught winning is better. Tell me an early memory of
where you learned winning is better.”
This I could quickly answer. “Why
it’s everywhere! Everything seems to be a competition, from best
breakfast cereals to best fast food burgers to best cars to best
sports teams. In elementary school, the best students were given gold
stars on their homework assignments or received awards at the end of
the school year.”
“Now tell me about grade school again
and those gold stars that were handed out. Did everyone get gold
“No, not at all. I myself could go
weeks without getting a gold star.”
“Did you feel there was a limited
supply of stars, that only some people could get the gold star?”
“Actually, something like that
occurred. The teachers called it ‘grading on a curve.’ On a difficult
test, the highest grade would be equivalent to getting the gold star.
Then everyone else was ranked against that one grade so most people
received no stars at all.”
“So would you say there was a
shortage of stars?”
“I hadn’t thought about it, but yes.
There were a limited number of stars given to students. Not everyone
received a star.”
“By there being a shortage of stars,
did that make you work harder to get the stars?”
“Yes, it would if I was pretty good,
and almost got a star, but my grade total was just a little too low.”
“What if everybody got a gold star?”
“I and everybody would say the test
wasn’t hard enough. It wasn’t competitive enough.”
“Ah, so if everyone wins, there’s no
competition. It’s not fun. There’s no drive to do better. But why be
best? What is the driving force behind being best?”
“I think it is something about being
successful. I felt that same high, that same energy when I got a star
on a paper or was recognized for doing something outstanding.”
“Interesting,” Sri said as he
yawned. “Tell me more about success now. That’s relevant in this
discussion about competition.”
“If you are successful, you can move
up. I was taught in school that if you are successful in school, and
you do really well on tests, that you can get into a really good
college. When you get good grades in college, you can get a good job
after college. Then you can have a successful career, successful
marriage, and be able to go on vacations and buy things like a new
car or house in a good neighborhood.”
“Interesting. So how early in life
are you taught all this about success?”
“I think it started in Kindergarten,
when the teachers asked us to dream about what we wanted to be in
life. It was all about being successful in some way.”
“So let me get this straight.
Competition creates winners and losers, where winning is good and
losing is bad. Competition is exciting. Competition creates an
adrenaline rush, which is akin to being successful. Success is then
measured in being able to do things, such as go places or buy things.
So following this logic, it appears that the purpose of competition
is consumerism. Do you agree?”
“Wow!” I never made that connection
“Imagine you are attending a sporting
event. What would happen if you sat at the side and celebrated
whenever anyone from either side made a great play or scored?”
“I’d probably get yelled at by the
folks I was sitting near who supported the opposing team, or have
something thrown at me. It wouldn’t be wise to cheer for the other
“Ah, so there are rules to watching a
competition as well as playing it?”
“Yes of course. You can wear the
colors of the team you support, sit with others for that team, and
cheer when everyone else cheers and sometimes boo when everybody else
“So the competition is also about
uniformity, and everybody acting the same, somewhat dressing the
same, and speaking the same, is that correct?”
“I suppose if you put it like that,
yes that’s true.”
“And if you step outside of the norm,
and cheer both sides, then the crowds police you and try to bring you
back into line with the norm. Do I have that as you understand?”
I felt like ever so slightly a film had
lifted from my vision and I saw more clearly for just a few seconds.
I was thinking about something that had never occurred to me.
Thinking back to geometry class with hypotheses and correlations,
this is what I deduced:
- Competition is good
- The goal of competition is to win. Winning is good. Losing is bad.
- If you don’t play by the rules in even watching the competition, others around you will try to get you to conform to the rules and watch the competition in the right way.
- Winning competitions is successful.
- Not everyone can be a winner. There are winners and losers.
- There are a limited number of winners, so there is scarcity and lack.
- Winning in class, in school, in college, in work is the goal.
- Winning = success.
- When you are successful, you earn more money, and will be able to buy stuff.
- There are a limited number of people who can be successful. Scarcity is implied.
- Buying lots of stuff helps the economy, and more stuff is created.
- Competing and winning is an endless loop. You can’t just compete and win once and just enjoy that high feeling once then move on to another experience. You have an internal voice telling you to continue competing and winning throughout life.
- If you don’t participate in the rules of competition, such as root for both sides of a game, you will be forced by the public to play the game the right way or to be silenced.
- The purpose of competition is non-stop consumerism. It is taught and reinforced throughout life
“Yikes!” I thought. No wonder why many people are miserable. The premise is wrong. With that, I stood up and the garden disappeared and I found myself in an old parking lot with weeds, pot holes, and trash. Nearby was an old city swimming pool reeking of chlorine. I jumped into the water, created the Othala symbol and swam through it. I found myself back at the YMCA. I stopped swimming, touched the wall for the last lap, and pulled myself out of the pool. My head was spinning. This encounter only raised more questions.
The journey continues.