Healthy Competition

Humans are competitive. We all know this, and probably feel it within our own nature to some degree. We strive higher, perform better, and want more because of a tendency we have to measure up to one another. Most of us are raised to believe this is a quality -- a common trait amongst the most successful in sports, the classroom, and business. Without a doubt, there is a place for healthy competition in all of these areas and more. Competition can push us to work hard and set goals for ourselves that we might not if we were living on an island.

The key distinction between healthy competition and harmful comparison is at the heart level. Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 says, "Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man's envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind" (ESV). So, where do we base our motivation: in envy or in admiration for others?

As our family has been forced to spend more time working and learning from home, a tangible shift has happened in our collective motivation. It's easy to see how the teamwork and positive competition that results from working closely with others can be invigorating and enjoyable. We want to please, we want to stand out within a crowd of many, we enjoy recognition, and oftentimes our personal goals are formed through observing people we admire. These are natural -- even healthy -- human behaviors. I'd never hold it against my kids that they flourish best in a classroom with peers, where they're driven toward success by group challenges/assignments and awareness of others. This is the case for most of us. 

But, the element of envy within competition can easily become dominant if we aren't working to fight it. As it says in Proverbs 14:30, "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones." The contrasting word to envy here is peace, and having a sense of peace within human competitiveness is clearly a work of the Holy Spirit. If we do not have peace when we observe others doing well (perhaps much better than we are), it's very likely we have envy rotting us from inside. When our response to another's success is resentment, or if we feel threatened, nobody benefits -- least of all us.

When a team loses a game, they can mope around all week or they can pick themselves up, learn from their competitor and strive to do better through emulating their hard work. When someone is flourishing in the career we desire for ourselves, we can make excuses why they made it and we couldn't, or we can follow their example. This can mean asking questions, giving compliments, and being a student of others, giving a perfect opportunity to mutually encourage. The awareness of those around us can ignite in us a selfish ambition or it can lead to our personal growth, building up another in the process. This ultimately brings glory to God, for whom and through whom any of us are anything at all. 

By Anne Gould, wife of Mark Gould

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