Life and thoughts

When toxic competition becomes the norm

The daily competition of life is becoming increasingly toxic in today’s world. This is not to say that all competition is bad – after all, some healthy competition can drive us to try new things or achieve levels we never might have otherwise – however, more and more, competition is moving into resentment and damaging ourselves and our relationships.

Competition is normal, but sometimes we go too far

From an evolutionary perspective, competition all makes sense. Being faster than your counterparts ensured you weren’t eaten by predators and were more likely to eat (or partner up). Even in today’s world, competition means you get the job over other applicants, or make the winning bid on a house, ensuring you a living and a home. The problem is, our world is becoming less kind with competition leading to resentment rather than a drive for success. Cruelty has always existed and every human, as much as we would like to deny it, has the capacity for this. It’s strange that as our world is becoming more global and connected, our fear leads us to let figures like Trump spout hatred and gives us permission to be more vocal in doing the same.

Take, for example, the new public sport of celebrity bashing. It is like we sate our bloodlust (aka Roman gladiatorial contests) by making deliberate and concerted efforts to destroy those who are more genetically blessed than us either in appearances or talents or both. After placing such people on a pedestal, we then use a sledgehammer to remove it.

The rise and fall of celebrities

One of the most recent examples of this is Megan Markle. A talented actress, accomplished humanitarian and also beautiful, we originally delighted in her rise as she became Duchess to universally loved Prince Harry. Yet within months, our schadenfreude knew no bounds and the media happily feeds our obsession (and her estranged family’s envy). What changed in that time? Nothing really but our resentment that we don’t have what she has. Rather than trying to emulate some of those characteristics we loved about the Duchess, we’d prefer to see her as undeserving, to make ourselves feel better for our own perceived failings.

We have also seen this behaviour locally. Delta Goodrem was once Australia’s sweetheart, now commonly derided as annoying. Or even (perhaps controversially) Karl Stefanovic. The golden boy of TV is being punished for what the public view as him “flaunting” his relationship with Yasmine, younger than ex-wife Cassandra. As a whole, Stefanovic’s behaviour hasn’t changed and his failed relationship is no reason to punish him – he didn’t cheat on his ex-wife, the relationship simply ended like so many others in Australia. Is Karl actually flaunting his relationship or is it simply that we see a lot of it because the media can see our envy sells magazines and papers.

Harmless cruelty?

It may seem harmless to celebrity-bash, after all, we don’t know these people. Of course, it isn’t harmless to those celebrities whom we seem to forget have feelings too as well as a need to continue to work in their chosen career path. Where our schadenfreude is really a problem though is where it extends to our real life and real relationships. You could argue we don’t do this in our daily lives but it seems otherwise.

Today’s version of keeping up with the Jones’ sees us desperate to be skinnier than our counterparts, more successful than our counterparts and extends to competing using family members. Parents of children will be more than familiar with how far the competition extends to the inane, for example, whose child crawled first. A developmental milestone that really means nothing in the longer term.

It happens in the workplace too and usually represents itself in the form of gaslighting and other types of bullying.

The result of this endless glee in others’ misfortune is damage to ourselves and our relationships. It’s hard to be friends with those you are desperate to see toppled. It’s difficult to aspire to greater heights if you are too busy undermining others instead of learning from and seeking to reach similar levels. It’s also nearly impossible to hide those feelings – ever had that funny feeling that someone wishes you ill? A sixth sense so as to speak?

Changing the status quo

At the end of the day, you might have a moment of pleasure from tearing someone down but it won’t make you happier overall. So what is the answer when there is an element to human nature to all this?

I think it comes down to, to copy Disney’s Cinderella, being kinder to yourself and others. Forgive your own failings so you are less critical of others’ failings. Celebrate your own successes so that you are more comfortable celebrating others.

It all sounds airy-fairy in a world where envy and hatred is so prominent in prominent levels of society like politics and the truth is, you might not change the world, but at the very least, it might make you and those around you just a little bit happier in dealing with life.