I was lately considering this, it seems to drive a lot of behaviours, competitiveness, the desire to win in sports, or to win in games. It seems to me as if it is driven by evolutionary principles, it hooks into ego and is socially reinforced, it’s like everybody wants to be the dominant male or female.
I can understand that it is important in a hunter-gatherer society to know who is the strongest, but he won’t necessarily be the most capable hunter even. So why the desire to win as a baseline behaviour in humans?
To win ....Perhaps a primeval survival instinct ....and which has now just turned into the dopamine serotonin reward one gives oneself after achieving a successful outcome ...
Not sure if I can offer that much insight. I liked sport but wasn't terribly competitive. I do like games and puzzles though. And going off what I've heard others talk about their motives in interviews and such.
I think there are two general sorts of motivations. One is for personal or group excellence and mastery, the other for dominance over others. The former brings people up the latter tears them down. Competition forces people to improve and do the best they can, something we all ultimately benefit from in an interconnected world.
A good movie recently came out on Netflix (at least here in the US) called Molly's Game that, I think, highlights the differences well. On the one hand you have Molly, who wants to build something great for herself, on the other you have player X (Toby McGuire IRL) who is explicitly motivated by the desire to humiliate and ruin others.
Take as another example the way many insular martial arts are being exposed as completely ineffective in mixed martial arts settings. For a long time they've only interacted with themselves, they haven't really been tested. Not going through the testing and refining process of competition the wheat hasn't been separated from the chaff.
At some level pretty much all of the social and moral gains of society have come about as a result of people who wanted to win. Suffragettes wanted to win the right to vote, civil rights advocates wanted to win equality under the law for black people. Thank goodness for people wanting to win, or we'd all still be living as serfs under the dictates of god-kings. There will probably always be takers in the world and if there aren't people of good will willing to push back and win the takers get to decide everything.
The sort of opposite is collaboration, working together for a common goal. Though often we collaborate to compete at a group level.
Spiritual practice teaches us equanimity. Which is great for many aspects of our own individual well being and allowing for greater social harmony. As an absolute I'm not sure how well it works in practice when not everyone has to play by those rules.
At the end of the day, people are diverse and that is a strength. Some people are better suited for collaboration and harmonizing, some are better at competition and success.
I guess what I'm trying to get at is the OP contextualizes competitiveness only in a negative light. I think there are lots of positive aspects to it as well, and would advocate for not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
So perhaps winning equates to getting what you want, ultimately? In my life competition has been a largely negative influence, it seems to generate a lot of negative energy.
I think its like I said, it depends on how one engages with it. Is it about sportsmanship and excellence or is it about domination?
I think it probably depends in part on all involved being invested participants. If one person wants a relaxed activity, while another wants a competitive sport, it'll be unpleasant for the former and unrewarding for the latter.
I remember once playing some table tennis in a rec center and having someone I didn't know challenge the winner. They had a very competitive attitude and even though I beat them the game itself was stressful and fairly unpleasant. Compare that with a game of racketball, where I was a bit outmatched (such that I was able to score some points but clearly had little chance of winning) the other player was friendly and just wanted to play. One I won and didn't enjoy, the other I lost and did enjoy.
If you're looking for evolutionary sources, mate selection seems to make some sense on an individual level. On a group level, bands competed for resources at times so the winning tribes propagated more genes.
Of course, we have the concept of winning against another person or group.
But there is another type of winning.
It arises not from competition with others or an outside entity or force.
It is the victory, the winning within our own lives, each of us.
There lies the true competition, the true victory.
Yes, we are biologically primed to compete. But when we turn that inward, we achieve a quantum leap forward. We become the true owners of our happiness, of our lives. Thus we are able to extend that victorious life to aid others. Of course, as we aid others, we are aiding ourselves.
That is true victory.
Peace to all
I’m not too sure there are “positive” aspects to wanting to win and competitiveness. These things all seem to be driven by desire, which ultimately leads to Samsara. It makes me think of a quote by Ajahn Chah, where he says that all pleasurable fulfillment of desire ultimately leads again to Samsara.
You could argue that the dopamine reward cycle mentioned by @Shoshin1 above means we are biologically primed to fall into the trap of wanting to win, wanting to complete tasks, and that Buddhist equanimity is a divorce between the spiritual mind and dopamine.
If we're talking about the spiritual life I'd likely agree with you. I tend to distinguish what is good for spirituality and what is good for society. There is plenty of overlap, but I imagine what the world would be like populated with monks and nuns and I don't imagine we'd have much of the positive aspects of an advanced society.
More than that though. The reality of the world is that there are domineering people that will take everything they can if no one stands up to them... I suppose that doesn't necessarily make it a positive thing, but it does make it a necessary thing. At least in a diversity sense, where its a strength for some people to have those traits and I'd argue against looking down on the trait.
Devas do battle with asuras. Both ambitious in their own ways and seeking to win. I'd rather ambitious devas fight than to give up ambition and let asuras win. Right Effort is a factor of the eightfold noble path. Desire to seek an end to suffering is a noble desire. Not permanent and to be abandoned at some point, but necessary for the pursuit in my view. There are many forms of winning just like many forms of desire. Most are self serving in a worldly way that puts one at odds with their fellows but I think there's at least one that can be seen as noble. It begs the question "What is there to be won?"
Hmm. Let me put it another way. I don’t really care about society, society will take care of itself and the world needs another Buddha more than someone wanting to get in a fistfight. I care about my relationship with the holy life, and that asks of me that I resolve my relationship with a number of deep issues before I can call my search complete. Winning is one of those, survival at any cost is another.
Is it my place to do battle with Deva’s or Asura’s? It seems to me that the path of a modern buddhist is one of peace, following in the footsteps of Thich Nhat Hanh and Ajahn Chah. I’m beginning to realise that winning, being victorious, can be a consuming desire that causes one to cling to the wrong things and that it is something to be let go of, for me.
The desire to be victorious, to win, causes one to enter conflict situations with something other than a heart bearing peace. Ruthlessness, the desire to strike with fists and clubs, to force submission, is not the path of the buddha. If you feel these things, or can imagine yourself in a situation where they come to the fore like me, you need to meditate on why. It is not suitable for one who aspires to learn at the feet of the Buddha, and it is something one needs to deal with before one’s heart is pure.
I put these questions — often in a general form — on NewBuddhist as a kind of sounding board to see what other people say, but perhaps I should make clear that they are deeply relevant to my practice.
Like I said, I think in terms of the spiritual life winning isn't the way. Its part of the 8 worldly concerns in terms of gain and loss.
I think where I'm coming from is one of pluralism, diversity and a respect for difference. Even in the Buddha's own time it was never a goal to convert everyone. In the Tibetan tradition there were many paths and techniques given to suit differing personality types. The archetype of the spiritual warrior being common across many traditions.
Perhaps this is my own projection, but I'm hearing not just a desire to practice equanimity, or non-competitiveness in your own life. I'm getting some level of derision towards those with a competitive temperament and contextualizing all competitiveness in negative terms. My argument is that the world needs all kinds to function well, including winners and peacemakers.
So let me ask, do you think that the world is functioning well? It looks to me like we have an excess of warriors and unscrupulous businessmen still and too few peacemakers, as a result of letting the political class do what it likes with incentives for these things in a material society.
The one thing that has proved capable of moving society is the free availability of psychedelics, and it didn’t take those in power long to react to that.
But I am happy it is not my place to set out paths for others to follow, or having to convert them for some tradition, I doubt whether I am very persuasive. Certainly if you see any derision in my writing it shows how poor I am at communicating. I don’t have a high opinion of competitiveness, that is true, but I wouldn’t call it derisory, it has its uses.
At heart, I am not a pluralist. It is a mystery to me why other people don’t take up Buddhism with enthusiasm, and I see in that trend a tremendous inertia and an unwillingness to take up more beneficial paths.
I doubt the world has ever really functioned well. I'd say it has gotten better in many important ways. And I think you may be right that there is an excess of warriors and unscrupulous businessmen. Where I might disagree is what to do, I'd call for greater balance, what I hear you wanting is a triumph of the peacemakers and a defeat for the competitors.
I mean, there are some good reasons to think psychedelics can have a positive impact. But its not like that is THE thing we're all waiting on to improve society. Medicine, philosophy, spirituality, education, sanitation, electricity, etc. have come about via lots of other factors. Plus psychedelics are a tool and their use can lead to bad outcomes too.
We do incentivize many of the wrong behaviors. We learn from our leaders, the parents, the ones in charge. That isn't new, though more amplified and fragmented with modern technology and human expansion leading to the weird conglomerate of people and families and communities and such we struggle to define as a tribe today.
We're still primitive animals in many ways who have had some extraordinary progress in our tool capabilities. Just cuz we have refrigerators and missiles and internet doesn't mean our brains have evolved as fast. Natural evolution takes a heck of a long time compared to technological evolution. We're outpacing what we are fully capable of understanding as a whole society and leaving a lot of people in the dust as a result.
Maybe this is a form of internal winning, a striving in contrast to the more agreeable type mentioned by @lionduck. A blind and self-serving striving or desire to be first, to find the best, solve the problem, push the limits no matter the cost. Progress for the sake of more progress with no consideration for returning to help others. And if the whole group is involved as a unit, maybe that turns out ok. It's what took us from being hunter-gatherers subject to predation and the elements and gave us a more comfortable lifestyle in many ways. But clearly everyone isn't coming along in this new modern society and many are left behind while those advancements are packaged as unaffordable products back to the same people who used to be considered the tribe.
I agree it takes all kinds for a society to function, including those that strive. But if someone's sole purpose is to strive and on the managing end of that striving is a businessman who's sole purpose is to make money, and protecting those businessmen and their profits along with the products of the striving are the lawmakers and enforcers who have equally greedy intentions, then the striving never reaches the masses in the way it was meant to when we all worked together toward the goal.
Not sure what the solution is but likely has to do with a shift in mentality from those who draw the lines and make the rules. A softening of the fist, extending of the open hand, forgiveness and compassion to a greater extent than we see today. We either get there or we don't, which is not really up to me as an individual. What is up to me as an individual is how I conduct myself in my daily affairs. Doing my best to not fall victim to the same behaviors of what I was raised on and see applauded all around. I think that's all we can do. Some of us find ourselves in positions for that to have substantial impact, some of us just make the checker at the grocery store smile one more time than they would have otherwise. I think it all helps and think it's also enough just that way.
Kind of rambly and scatterbrained, sorry. Here's a funny Adventure Time clip which this topic reminded me of.
After diving in, I couldn't agree more. Sad to say whenever I talk about what I'm learning or practicing to friends and family it's met largely with disinterest followed by a discussion change to how much stress they have and inability to rid themselves of it.
Nature is competitive.
"I, too, monks, before my Awakening, when I was an unawakened bodhisatta, being subject myself to birth, sought what was likewise subject to birth. Being subject myself to aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement, I sought [happiness in] what was likewise subject to illness... death... sorrow... defilement. The thought occurred to me, 'Why do I, being subject myself to birth, seek what is likewise subject to birth? Being subject myself to aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement, why do I seek what is likewise subject to illness... death... sorrow... defilement? What if I, being subject myself to birth, seeing the drawbacks of birth, were to seek the unborn, unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding? What if I, being subject myself to aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement, seeing the drawbacks of aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement, were to seek the aging-less, illness-less, deathless, sorrow-less,, unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding?'
Well said, @fleamarket. The way I see it, the world is moving along its course, and the opportunities to effect a change in the entire population are few and difficult. Look at the impact of the most popular movie of all time, Avatar — a great story of indigenous people threatened by invading others it caught the zeitgeist but changed very few people’s opinions. On the other hand the smartphone has changed the way we communicate within a few short years. But it takes rare talent to do these things.
I don’t estimate my ability to change the world as in any way great, and so I spend my time on the dhamma, with the understanding that the world needs peacemakers more than warriors. Part of that is becoming aware of the conditioned impulses of my body and mind, and how they interact with the dhamma. The arguing about how to change the world I am happy to leave to others, for me there is enough to do in just learning from the Buddha.
I don’t think greater balance is necessarily the answer, if I’m forced to hazard a guess. What is meant by that anyway? How can the balance be ‘greater’? The phrase seems merely an adherence to the status quo. I believe people admire the likes of Ghandhi and Martin Luther King because their protests were able to effect change, they disturbed the balance of their time to reach a new and more just equilibrium.
Its true, I’ve also found it difficult to interest others in the minutiae of the dhamma. But I have looked a bit at how the Buddha used to teach the dhamma, and he would talk first about generosity and other aspects of virtue, and only later would he move onto suffering and the four Noble Truths.
See this article on Access to Insight: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/index.html
Generally people who have seen a bit of life tend to get more interested when you talk about the Noble Truths, is my experience.
I take the Tao and the symbol of yin/yang to heart. I do believe in a sort of ideal balance to be had. That the true path is a tightrope between extremes. So if the world does need peacemakers more than warriors, that doesn't mean the world doesn't need warriors or that we should fall into thinking of one as good and one as bad when both are needed. A system can be unbalanced with too many peacemakers too, I'm not arguing against peacemakers, I'm arguing for a more inclusive language towards warriors.
I would say that Ghandhi and King didn't upset the balance of their time, they upset an unbalanced state.
As a bit of an aside, the status quo argument is a bit stale. Donald Trump upset the status quo in terms of political norms, I imagine you're in favor of maintaining the status quo of a peaceful transfer of power.
First, the personal spiritual growth is independent of monks or nuns. It is a road traveled individually. a world filled with nothing but monks and nuns would be a trifle much.
Second, the worth, plus or minus of competition with others depends greatly upon the nature of said competition. When it becomes competition based in greed or corruption, it is is turned onto an evil path. On the other hand, if it is cooperative competition to develop, say, a more efficent safe water supply or delivery of medical needs, competition become an function of great good.
As with so many actions and concepts, competition is neither good nor bad in itself. It is the why and how of the competiton that creates value or loss.
Peace to all
Strangely enough we can win by 'Not Winning'. This is the point of stilling techniques in Meditation, Hatha Yoga and Tai Chi Chuan.
All these in a higher aspect allow us to relax mastery and find a centering where there is no push back of technique or overcoming. Techniques can be passive or accepting of loss. So winning by being wrong in the right way. Losing to others assertions of some knot they wish to tie one into ...
Tai Chi does not offer resistance, turning or spiraling away hardness. Yoga and meditation become softer, gentler and easier, the less we concentrate on attainments, posturing, posing, trying to change others or our own innate softening ...
We can increasingly function in this way, changing to whims of what is only an obstacle if trying to go through, instead of around or turning back ...
Many people like the idea of living forever and we are told that the longer we are remembered, the longer we last after our passing on. Winning and setting records helps with that.
To me, things like winning, successes especially if beneficial give me feel good. And, things like losing, failures especially if harmful give me feel bad. I’ll take feel good any day. And, it looks to me like feel good and feel bad were designed in, as a punishment/reward system, to seek winning and successes over loosing and failures. Can we not be winners or losers at this game of life?
Indeed, the Buddha has advice directed at his lay followers on ways to manage finances and relationships for more favorable outcomes (winning).
Keep in mind though that winning and losing are among the eight worldly winds (gain and loss). And the ultimate path of Buddhism directs us away from that sort of mindset.
Hey @PeterJTimm, welcome.
Yeah, welcome! Always nice to see new faces
Certainly the brain’s dopamine reward cycle means winning feels pleasurable and losing feels unpleasurable. But the dhamma teachings I have read state that following pleasurable and unpleasurable are not the way forward. We can follow pleasure and avoid pain, but that is part of Samsara and the realm of Mara, illusion and deception.
A mind that, when touched
by the ways of the world,
is unshaken, sorrowless, dustless, at rest
This is the highest protection.
— the Maha-Mangala Sutta
I have this one on my wall