Competition vs. Cooperation

UPDATE:  I wrote the following words on the “Get Schooled” blog thread of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, entitled, “Should schools follow competition or cooperative models? Can they be both,” May 30, 2015, in response to the University of Georgia Professor Peter Smagorinsky’s thoughts.

” ‘I think that both of these possibilities — that competition brings out excellence and that competition breeds corruption — can be true at the same time.’


Written with nuance and insight.

The problem with competition, as I see it from the standpoint of human spiritual evolution in reaching for the face of God over time, is that it is based on a hierarchical vision of humankind.  That is competition’s essential downfall over time, and the essential survival of collaboration, over time, for, under God, we truly are all one.

More specifically, have you ever seen two boxers in practice, with the one trying to help the other excel for the big event?  After the practice is over, they shake hands as colleagues, appreciative of the talents and the help of the other.  It is all where your head is.  Where is your essential philosophy for humankind in relation to one another?


Within the past week (February 21, 2012), I had written the following remarks in response to another writer’s post on a local journalist’s blog. I thought that readers of “Mary Elizabeth Sings” may also want to wrestle, with me, regarding the pull between competition and cooperation in our daily lives.  See below, for a slightly edited version of my earlier remarks:


“Thank you for inviting me to read your letter regarding the need for cooperation rather than competition in the education of our young. It is a thought-provoking and sensitive letter. I see exactly where you are coming from, and I understand your saying that variety-thinking makes more practical sense than diversity-thinking. ‘Variety’ implies celebrating differences within an overall ‘oneness,’ whereas ‘diversity’ implies separateness, as in the word ‘divorce.’

It has taken my entering into the last third of my life for me finally to understand how, as you say, everything is interconnected, and not only all people, but everything. I have believed that all people are interconnected for as far back as I can remember in my life, but as I have aged, I am coming to understand that that interconnectedness involves everything in existence. When we finally ‘get’ that reality, competition does seem rather absurd, and cooperation seems to be more in tune with the spiritual order of the universe. Since we now know that matter and energy are actually one and the same in essence, then all we embrace, both living and nonliving, must be one with us. With that understanding, then, competition appears to go against nature, in its core element. Just as the hand and the foot are different parts of the same body but are not in competition with each another, so also, they both cooperate with one another, in their differences, to enhance the overall quality and effectiveness of the same body.

Your impetus for writing was because you could see the pain in the children’s eyes when they had not won the science competition. You said you could sense the pain they felt in perceiving of themselves as ‘losers,’ even if they had won second or third place. Your sensitivity is profound. I truly compliment you for your sensitivity, and I believe you are spiritually correct in your thinking. I am torn, however, in that although I know you are spiritually correct, the pragmatic part of my thinking still tells me that it is only through competition that we can assess excellence. Everything is not of the same quality. Sometimes children want to know what is ‘the best’ so that they can work to achieve that excellence for themselves. In fact, sometimes people who are ‘the best’ strive to better their own record, by trying for even greater excellence. The young ballerina, for instance, looks to Margot Fonteyn for inspiration because Fonteyn has been such an outstanding ballerina. So, I am left with a thought that there must be some balance between competition and cooperation, with the overall evolution of humankind moving toward greater collaboration and cooperation, rather than competition.

Your writing has given me ‘food for further thought’ and your words have inspired me to reach deeper in spiritual understanding. Thank you for that.”


On June 4, 2012, I posted these words on a local journalist’s blog, which concerned a university football coach’s statement that he would only hire assistant coaches if the prospective assistant coaches had “good-looking wives”:

“(P)erhaps, as citizens, we should begin to consider what degree of competition versus what degree of cooperation we wish to perpetuate within society. Perhaps, it is time to question whether the more ‘muscular’ concepts of power, dominance, winning, and wealth (which football brings to colleges and universities) are the values most to be sought within our nation, as opposed to the values of collaboration, cooperation, egalitarianism, and intellectual and spiritual development. It is interesting that the valuing of looks (which is a form of personal power) seems, often, to be a priority within the arenas of life which place priority upon power, a hierarchial way of seeing.”


The below Addendum to this post are my remarks in response to another blogger, which I had initially posted on a local educational journalist’s blog on April 3, 2012:

“Having worked in public schools for 35 years, I do not believe that the only way public schools are going to change is through the threat of competition. We seem to have two differing views on what motivates people – as many do – and that difference will effect how one views people, in general, as well as how one envisions the most productive environment for a school’s operation.

Perhaps the business world operates best through the threat of competition, but I believe that most educators, and perhaps most people, if inspired, have an intrinsic desire to excel. They achieve that excellence best in a nurturing, not a threatening, environment. Treating teachers with respect and care, while also educating them to more effective ways to increase student growth, enhances both teachers’ and students’ productivity and joy in the learning process. Look at the recent cheating debacles throughout the nation for examples of what has happened when unrealistic goals have been set for teachers in highly competitive, tense environments.

Public charter schools are one possiblility that may help to improve traditional public schools, but not all charter schools will automatically do that. Some charter schools are inferior to public schools as test results have shown. Nevertheless, if public charter schools are carefully assigned and limited in number, and if they are encouraged to work in harmony with traditional public schools, this latest educational endeavor could become an opportunity that could benefit both public charter schools and traditional public schools. The key is working together, and not working in competition with one another. Moreover, that is a better model for students to observe and to emulate.”

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2 Responses to Competition vs. Cooperation

  1. Pingback: About Education: Essay #6, On Georgia’s Charter School Movement | maryelizabethsings

  2. Pingback: Thomas Jefferson, Part 3 | maryelizabethsings

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