Linda Downing

Unselfish competition serves good purpose

There is a spirit that trashes the noblest purpose - a competitiveness gone awry that bludgeons true greatness. Yet, it continues to be America's sacred cow. It renders presidents impotent, stymies Congress, and holds our collective breath in dangerous limbo. Like it or not, we expose our children early to this fight for supremacy. In an article for The Tampa Tribune, educator Sherry Maysonave penned a compelling report on the advantages of using technology in the classroom. But, she sounded a warning: If school districts establish a "bring your own device" policy, lower-income children will suffer socially and educationally. Notwithstanding Maysonave's alert, some schools, frustrated by lack of funds and pressured by unfair measurements, will do this anyway, hurting the very ones that need justice most. Our actions too often do not support what we say we believe. This past May a survey purported 90 percent agreement of Americans on a number of things, among them: "think society should ensure everyone has equal opportunity to succeed." The 1932 Social Creed of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America prophesied our free-for-all mentality: "The principle of competition appears to be nothing more than a partially conventionalized embodiment of primeval selfishness.the supremacy of the motive of self-interest." The dog-eat-dog climate prevails in diverse scenarios from training animals, like pit bulls and roosters, to fight to bloody deaths for man's profit and amusement, to parading babies before
judges for the same reasons. No matter what is being judged - strength, beauty, talent, or intellect - there is political graft, social promotion, popularity bias, and outright cheating. There is always a Lance Armstrong, willing to lie and abuse his own body to wear a false title. One-upmanship shows itself in hunger to have what our neighbor has, returning us to spending patterns that got us into trouble in the first place. In a Wall Street Journal article last Sunday, Brett Arends listed money lessons we should have learned. Decrying debt and applauding simplicity, he wrote: "The people in charge don't know much more than you." When it comes to our economic nosedive, the powers that be were too busy covering their own shortsightedness. It took a year after the recession began for the Federal Reserve, Wall Street, and eventually the International Monetary Fund to admit we are in trouble. Gild, a business that appeals to competitiveness without killing creativity, is part of a feature in this month's Oprah magazine. It noticed many companies involved in technology only hire programmers from prestigious universities or from the existing pool. Gild searches the Internet for self-taught programmers, bringing them to the attention of Silicon Valley, which profits by hiring them at less money but gives them an unexpected career boost. Gild's quest ignores ordinary, competitive means. Vivienne Ming, one of its chief scientists says: "What we care about is, are you good at the thing you want to do?" Jesus did not reprimand those who want to win or be on top. He offered the right motive: "He that is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 23:11). Still want to compete? Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side. Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at