Deborah Hill Cone: No winners? Then we're all losers

I get fanmail. "Hi there. Sorry, but I just had to tell you this. You really need to lose those eyeglasses. They look ridiculous and not in a cute way. Best wishes, Jane." Cheers Jane. Thank you. And sod off. (Actually, my Harry Potter glasses have been banished to Azkaban.)

And this week I got some polite fanmail from Ramila. "I would be interested if you could elaborate on why you say, 'Life IS a competition' in your opposition to one reader's comments that 'Life is not a competition'."

Sure, Ramila, I'll give it a go. Ahem. Charles Darwin was an English naturalist who presented a scientific theory called natural selection that said all species of life evolved from common ancestors. Evolutionary biology is all about competition for scarce resources. Fight or die. If you wonder whether life is a competition, just "ask the sperm".

But I am not saying life is like the reality show Survivor, where one person wins a million dollars and everyone else gets to eat worms. It is not a zero-sum game (if one gains, another loses).

In economics, competition is about finding new ways of doing things and so there can be - ghastly expression - win/wins all round, such as when a country with too many bananas trades with a country with too many apples. That is a happy outcome all round.

But the concept of competition suffers from a bad press. These days, when children get certificates for participating - "There are no winners and no losers, mummy" as my 5-year-old tells me - it is fashionable to talk in a soft, bedside manner about collaboration and co-operation rather than chanting "We are the champions". Sure, I can understand this desire to make life one big sheltered workshop. No one wants to be a loser. I have recently been told my 2-year-old son is lagging behind in his speech development. I will love and accept him whatever he turns out to be like. But even so, I still believe that he should strive and compete.

As a friend who has been going through a really tough marriage split said: "You owe it to yourself and those around you to strive to be your best. Everyone can push out the boundaries of their achievement irrespective of their talents or intellect. The game really is more against our own inertia than against other people, though we are inevitably competing against others."

Of course, at some point the drive to succeed is about winning and losing - and by definition winners and losers. Suck it up, people. Making the strive to succeed socially unacceptable denies our true, animal nature, and means we are only partly alive.

Losing is always going to be painful, but if you are unable to accept and experience pain then how can you fully experience joy?

Oh, and one more thing, Ramila. For you, or any woman dismissive of the idea that that life is a competition, think back to how you scored your husband and what you then had to do to fend off the masses who found him attractive. Maybe, like me getting rid of my "ridiculous" eyeglasses?

But this is only part of the story. Life is competitive but it is more than just a competition. Because the only real finish line is death, and honestly, none of us is in much of a hurry to get there.

Life is also about learning new things every day and learning about failing and being hungry to succeed. The happiest or best person might not be the richest, fastest, strongest, or the most beautiful. In many cultures those are the "winners" (but if you look at several statistics, those people are no happier than the average Joe).

People who are constantly striving to get ahead of the next guy or keep up with the Joneses will never be satisfied so they haven't truly won anything. They're running a race that has no finish.

- NZ Herald

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