Competition: Natural or Learned? A Guest Post by Michael Brine

By Michael Brine

Are we born to be competitive? This is a question that has often come up for me as I have moved through my life. I felt the subject might be a good article for discussion that will hopefully lead to some deeper conclusions.

Are we naturally competitive – or is it something that we learn and experience as we leave our mothers’ breasts and begin to absorb the social environment we find ourselves living in, and indeed, having to deal with? Hhmmm . . . interesting question.

Let me be honest with you. I do not believe it is natural. It is something we have to deal with as we begin to live in the world we find ourselves in – having to ‘compete’ with others as in sports, or in school, or in the workplace as we move into adulthood.

I can remember when I was at boarding school in Ontario. At the end of each term we were given our report cards, which showed where we ranked in that class. Say in a class of twenty-four you were, for example, in the top six, you were congratulated. If in the top twelve you were encouraged to keep working; if in thirteen to nineteen, you had work to do; and you can imagine if you were in the bottom six how everybody would look at you! Now is that healthy for your self esteem? Makes you feel inadequate, doesn’t it? Yup–I know this from my own experience at school. That kind of experience stays with you and haunts you as you move out into this big competitive world now before you. Just a little daunting!

For me there is a big difference between feeling the need to be competitive in order to be respected by others or to succeed in the work place, in challenging yourself to prove to YOURSELF that you can do it – whatever “it” is! Make sense? Does to me.

As some of you know, I was a realtor for a number of years here in Yukon. There were often times when I would have much preferred to work with my colleagues as a group and pooled our commissions, or a good part of them, and not have to compete with people who had become my friends – almost like family. This always bothered me but since I had to compete, then I sure as hell did! However, for me it was more to challenge myself as opposed to ‘get ahead’ of the others.

Let us look at this from another perspective – perhaps a more global one. We seem to live in a world in which even countries, or perhaps particularly countries, are competing against each other whether obviously or discreetly. This, I believe, is an outgrowth of our conditioning from the individual level to the larger global playing field. The dismal results, as we well know, lead to confrontations and all too often war. Sadly it seems we cannot live together in harmony with each other due to the extensive contagion of this dis-ease.

One other example – in some ways a more pathetic example – is our Canadian political system as it embarrassingly shows itself to be, whether in our House of Commons in Ottawa, or as seen in other ‘lesser’ jurisdictions such as here in Yukon. The ongoing need by each party to degrade the other, to be able to promote itself as the better party, is a sad and useless way to try and run a country. Decisions made are more usually for the benefit of the political parties, not necessarily for the constituents. None so blind as those who don’t want to see! What a negative environment to have to work in. Over time it must impact on their health, both mental and physical. More and more we see the frustrations of us, the individual constituents, losing all respect for our politicians. Leave us not forget they are but a reflection of us, only on a more public scale.

What I am trying to say here is that if we are raised throughout our childhoods in a competitive environment, however obtuse this may be, then this is what we learn, sadly projecting into our future how we will likely live our lives. It is all we know and we have been conditioned to believe our personal survival in the world depends on our ability to compete. It unconsciously affects so many of our actions in small and big ways from then on.  

In saying this, I should add that friendly competitiveness as in sports or in some other activities can be fun and indeed healthy emotionally. However, when it clouds our lives and pushes us into unhealthy attitudes and behaviours (and, unhappily, we have seen this very often in the sporting world) that devolve into dislike of another person or group, then that is entirely another thing. Our hockey world has become such an infected example, and, as we have recently seen on the news, it has now infected that almost ‘Royal Game,’ cricket!  J 

To challenge ourselves to be all that we can be is a noble and healthy way to live. To live our lives in harmony with others and working together as in community – sharing our talents and learning from each other – would, however, result in a much more amicable and healthy life, and help to unite a world that seems so tragically divided.

We are ‘One People’ regardless of race, colour or creed, who have unhappily allowed ourselves to be divided by lines on a map and sadly, even our religious/spiritual beliefs. This, as I see it, is the personal CHALLENGE before each of us: to recognise this and NOT to be confused by competitiveness AGAINST others. Such a world would be so much more fun to take part in and truly, to feel connected with others who are really only another of me and you! I will leave it at that and hope this will create some reflection by those who read this. Please share your own insights with me as a comment, or at my email address:, which are always welcome, for we learn from each other.

Other writings by Michael Brine can be accessed at and by clicking on his name in the Categories box.