I was raised by two parents who liked to parade their children in front of others, then go do their own thing, leaving us to take care of ourselves. To make matters worse, mother always told us she was a great cook. This was a case where we never would have figured that out on our own. In self-defense, we took up cooking as soon as we could reach the food. Survival in my family meant that my brothers and I had to stick together. We learned to cooperate and look out for each other. Whomever was home at five PM started dinner. I often started dinner, then my brothers would come and finish cooking it while I did my homework.
Hubby and I arrived in adulthood with two very different approaches to life. He claims one reason he married me was that he liked the way my brothers and I helped each other out. The cooperation just felt better.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that when my brothers and I see something that needs to be done, we do it. Hubby’s brothers will have to stop and think about whether they should do a job. Will they win? What will the reward be? Is it the right thing to do? They will do something just because it’s right, but it takes a while for them to figure that out. Meanwhile, I’m standing with my mouth hanging open, wondering why they didn’t do their chores.
My mother-in-law’s goal was to teach her boys to work so they could be successful and they managed to be successful at a time when it was easy for white males to achieve success. Since they like to make comparisons, we’ll look at how they’ve done with their competition-winning philosophy compared to those who grew up cooperating. Money, education and status wise, both families are about the same. However, those who cooperate, have had less stressful lives and, I think, more fun despite the tragedies that come with life. I’ve certainly never seen anything in scientific literature on life success being related to having a high need to compete. A work ethic is beneficial but whether you choose to compete with others or cooperate doesn’t seem to be a factor in life success.
As Hubby figured out by the time he was six, the problem with competing is that someone loses. The system is constructed to produce those who lose. Those who lose may not be the one who doesn’t work as hard or has less innate ability, but someone who may be younger or female or have some other status that places them at a disadvantage. Hubby eventually became as experienced as his brothers and equally strong, but that sense of having continually been the loser in family activities has sent him in a different direction from his brothers, and he isn’t really friends with them.
Now, there is nothing unique about either my upbringing or Hubby’s. Some families emphasize competition and some emphasize cooperation. These are just different values. We see these values played out in society. Some people cooperate and some compete. These are simply values people have.
The important part comes with making judgements or allowing your own perspective to color how you see someone else. I have no idea how many times someone has been really angry with me, thinking that I’m competing with them when my goal has been to cooperate. I understand why they are upset, sort of. If I am successful at something, in their mind, I must be attempting to make them lose. However, I never ever think someone will see my actions as attempting to put others down, so when I look up from my successful task and say, “look it’s working” I’m always taken by surprise at others’ anger. I thought we were working toward the same goal and forgot that those who compete must look like they were the one who reached the goal first.
I think the misunderstanding between competition and cooperation, is at the root of much of our social conflict. Those who are focussed on competition are afraid that someone is going to make them lose. They absolutely cannot see the person who jumps into a task beside them and starts hauling dirt as someone who is going to help.
Part of attempting to save our communities, and ultimately, our country is going to be recognizing that people have a different approach to life. Nobody has to have a meltdown over people who are cooperating. Each of us needs to be aware that others are different and recognize that our enthusiastic attempts to be helpful are not always appreciated. It’s hard, but some of us need to take our cooperative efforts to a group where we will not be a threat to those who are trying to win, even when we all may have the same goal. We can reach our common goal by allowing each other to work in the way we each value.