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Competition or cooperation?

By Scott Baker

Yesterday, most of America observed what has become an unofficial holiday: Super Bowl Sunday. It is a testament to all that Americans do so well —eat, compete, consume and watch TV. The commercials have been elevated almost to the level of the game; thus, reinforcing our consumer-centered lives. Yet, at the heart of the day is the big game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as much a football fan as the next person, yet I realize that our over-valuation of competition just might be hurting us more than helping us.

Some years ago, I ran across the following quotation: “In our society it is the high achievers who succeed, the high earners who are respected, the haves (not the have-nots) who are our heroes. Our society will always choose competition over cooperation, property rights over personal rights, concentration over distribution, and accumulation over purpose.” Unfortunately, I do not remember who penned it. It has nagged at me for years. Perhaps because it is so profound and insightful in naming what ails us as a species on this planet. How much better would we as a society be if we valued cooperation over competition? Other than putting a significant wet blanket on sports, it very well could change our whole outlook on how we live on this planet. By working together, rather than competing, just think of all we could accomplish! Climate change, health care, ending poverty and hunger, just to name a few.

This all-consuming need to compete has infected all parts of our society. It has even entered into the church. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been at a clergy gathering (where we’re all literally on the same side) only to see clergy boasting of this or that in an ecclesiastical game of one-upmanship. Rather than collaboration, we resort to the thing we have been indoctrinated in from our earliest days: competition.

Don’t get me wrong, good healthy competition can raise us to do our best and call us to dig deeper to perform at our peak. At least that was what I was told since I was little. However, it was always implied, if not explicitly stated, that collaboration and cooperation didn’t do those things. To work with others toward a greater outcome was almost always eschewed for competition.

As we look to the months that lay ahead, I can think of no better time than now to begin to exercise our cooperative skills. We’re all going to need each other’s help to rebuild our world when we get on the other side of COVID-19. As I look at our government, I can think of no place where this could benefit us more. We’ve just come through one of the most contentious and divisive times in recent memory — all fueled by our all-consuming need to compete and win. How much better would we have benefited if we had chosen to cooperate and collaborate? It’s not too late. We can enter into our shared future working together rather than against one another. Yes, we will have to compromise, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. To compromise means that we can all be happy with the results. And at the end of the day, would that be such a bad thing?

Father Scott Baker is the pastor of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Contact him at 757-562-4542.