>Ob Petere

>”Competition” is an interesting word. It’s also a charged word. While it doesn’t have a lot of definitions, it does have a lot of surface applications that can be confused with different meanings. It can also be used to justify actions or lack of actions, in certain contexts. It can be fun or it can be serious. It can build up an organization or tear it down.

Probably the most common usage of the word is in reference to the “friendly” competition of athletics and the like. The second, then, comes in describing a commercial concept. In both cases, competition implies that some person (or group) is winning and another is losing. To win a competition, one must simply rank better than the opposition during officially measured trials. Therefore, the goal of competition has become the defeat of the opposition.

I am only a novice when it comes to linguistics, but a quick search of the word “competition” reveals that it comes from the Latin, “competere,” which means “to strive for”—from “com-” meaning “together” and “petere” meaning “aim at, seek.” While the word came to mean “rivalry” in late Latin before entering the English vocabulary, its early meaning did not include the concept of opposition. As you can see, it included a prefix which means “together.”

The idea of striving for something together seems rather alien in our contemporary culture. More commonly we think in terms of striving against someone or something. This mentality about competition has shown itself historically to motivate improvement on all sides. There hardly seems like any point to playing sports if it isn’t to defeat the other teams. To do so, the players must improve themselves—both as individuals and as a team.

The same advantage applies to the commercial sense of the word. Historically, nations that allow businesses to complete generate more innovation and subsequent prosperity than those that either do not allow free enterprise, or highly regulate it. The reason is the same as it is in athletic competition: for anyone who wishes to run a successful business (win the competition), there is pressure to improve the quality of the goods and services he provides.

Unfortunately, the mentality of striving against (or “obpetere” with “ob-” meaning “against”) the competition tends to promote practices which are not conducive to prosperity, even if they technically count as winning. Basically, I mean endeavoring in any pursuit—legal or illegal—which handicaps the competition. This ranges from outright sabotage to lobbying for laws that favor your business other others.

It’s cheating. It’s destructive, degenerative, and wrong.

Instead of focusing on beating the competition, people who endeavor for success should focus on creating value, ignoring the competition. It may be that looking back at the competition periodically is important for success, but confusing success with simply being better than the next guy will never allow you to reach your full potential. It is far more important to the world that you (or anyone seeking success) develop the mentality of “striving together.”

In other words, competition serves the primary function of democratic growth, wherein the participating populace is collectively inspired and motivated to improve the whole. It is not because we are forced or brainwashed into improving the whole, but because we stand to gain both recognition and monetary reward for ourselves from winning an honest competition. The operative word here is “honest.”

If the primary focus is on creating value, then rewards are given for reaching this goal, not cheating others out of it.

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