When competition is good for us and when it’s bad


stressI need to admit something, for the sake of the argument in this post.  I watched The Choir last night.  It was refreshing to hear Gareth Malone tell his choir, “you need to perform and you need competition to bring out the best in you.”  I’m also glad that schools are rediscovering the value of competitive sport.  Sport is dead bland when everyone is a “winner” for taking part and excellence is overlooked for the sake of equality.  We need gold medalists to bring out the best in everyone.

But competition is not always good for us.  The Telegraph has reported a BUPA survey which reveals that 44% of British adults (45-54 year olds) are really stressed about money, work and family life.  Why are we so stressed about these things?  I believe it has much to do with economic competition.  When we all feel we need to compete in the market place, over education, jobs, better houses and school places, life is stressful.  If our company must be better and cheaper than the company down the road or even overseas in order to compete, of course we’re going to stress about it.  When we compete for a high standard of material and social comfort the competition itself is paradoxically harmful to our souls.  Competition is not always good for us.

What if we lived in a world where instead of competing to make our own life materialistically better than the Brown’s or the Smith’s, we lived in a world where we could trust each other to work well, at a fair price and for the good of others?  Wouldn’t that make life just a little less stressful?  What if we didn’t have to work long hours to make the company competitive?  What if we didn’t have competitive tendering and price pressure on all goods and services?  What if we sought to pay a fair wage for a fair day’s work?  It would be really liberating but it’s hard to imagine how we could ever agree to work in that way.  Indeed, it’s really a very alien idea in our post-Thatcherite world.  It would take a revolution in the way we think about everything from buying milk and bread to not overclaiming on insurance.  The good new is that Jesus has already started that revolution with a simple instruction:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?…O men of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these [material] things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

In a world where God’s kingdom is built for the common good and the glory of God.  Where people are trustworthy and fair and just, there’s no rip-off merchants and suspicion over the price, when money is not what matters but godliness and generosity, then we relax about the price and seek to serve and help one another.  This is a lovely, liberating truth, that stress and anxiety about material stuff reduces when Christ rules our hearts.

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