Friday, June 20, 2008

You Can't Spell Competition without "Self"

This last week I was speaking at a camp for about 1300 preteens. The students and staff were great, but one aspect of the program really struck me this morning and got me thinking.

The staff had a contest to see which group of children had the most spirit (not the spiritual kind, the excitement kind). As you can imagine the children went wild and the ones who won at the end of the week went crazy.

When they announced the winning group and I saw the excitement of the winners I realized that the best way to motivate people is to appeal to self-promotion.

It isn’t just at camp, and it isn’t just for kids. Every sporting event appeals to self-promotion—you’re trying to win, which means you’re trying to place yourself above another person. Commerce and capitalism appeal to self-promotion—the harder you work the more you benefit at the expense of others (although we typically don’t put it so bluntly). Every time I encourage someone to have me come speak, or to buy one of my books, or to read my blog instead of someone else’s, I’m promoting myself.

In fact, this appeal to self-promotion is so pervasive in our society that we’re like fish who don’t notice that they’re underwater. If you want to get someone to do something, have them compete with someone else.

And then Jesus comes along and tells us that to be great, we need to serve other people's interests instead (see Matthew 20:24-27). And Paul wrote, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others," (Philippians 2:3-4).

Imagine what our world would look like if we weren’t constantly trying to put ourselves above other people.

I can’t even picture what that would look like.

So here are my two questions: If I’m supposed to follow Paul’s advice and do nothing out of selfish ambition, should I ever compete with others? If I can still compete, how would following his advice change how I do so in the different areas of my life?

6 comments:

Doc Op said...

I struggle with this because I have a very competive nature (and a selfish one too). In those areas where I am not strong enough to compete, I don't even try.

Best I have come to checking this trend is loving a few folks. I want to see my kids know blessings, and know success even if it comes at my expense. So now I just try to expand that circle a person or two at a time.

mark songer said...

First, you are to be commended for being at a camp with 1300 preeteens for a week! oof!

OK, one thing we know about Paul is this: He was a sports nut! If Paul were alive today, he'd be watching SportsCenter whenever he could and have a fantasy baseball team. OK, maybe not, but he was still an enthusiast.

He used sports metaphors throughout all of his writings. Some were obvious ("Run the race as though you've already won it"). In other areas, he spoke of things like self control and discipline, but he was speaking of the discipline of an athlete in training, not as in punishment. It wouldn't surprise me if Paul coined the phrase "Keep your eye on the prize."

I say that to say this: Paul certainly believed in and encouraged competition (at least athletically). Therefore he was all about putting yourself in a position where you would be put on a pedestal above others.

The Bible's description of Heaven even alludes to this. Some will be given much. Some will be crowned with many crowns. But in the end we all throw all of our crowns, many or few, at the feet of Jesus.

Now me, I'm not a competitive person. God has blessed me with the ability to rejoice in other people's victories even if it means me getting crushed. I'm more apt to follow the words of Jesus when he told the apostles "Do not seek out the seat of honor lest you be dishonored when you are asked to move to a lesser seat so that another may be honored" (my paraphrasing). Personally, I like to give certain people the benefit of the doubt and suggest that's why they always want to sit in the back rows of church and the front rows are the last to fill up, but I digress.

To point: I believe God wants us to always do our best, even if that means we surpass others, but just don't gloat or consider ourselves better than others because of it (I'm trying really hard not to start singing the Kieth Greene song "He'll Take Care of the Rest).

Consider the Reverend Billy Graham, certainly the greatest evangelist of the last century, right up there with Moody and Paul as the greatest of all times. He is personally responsible for the salvation of millions of people and indirectly responsible for millions if not billions of others as those he helped find Jesus help others. Yet he still considers himself just a country preacher that God has used and blessed. He has done great things but has not sought greatness. And God has blessed him for it.

We can and should seek to better ourselves for as we do our best and as we improve upon our best, we can honor God by doing so. And when we support and encourage others who are also doing their best, even if they are not finishing in first place, and as we teach others to do their best as well, we also honor God.


::looks back at the length of his reply::

Sigh. Sorry. Looks like I did it again.

Rosanna B. said...

Just a few comments in closing my posts:

Mark, I so appreciate the humility and respect you showed in all your words here. I really admire that.

Chris, you are a man whose intention is to protect his children. That is a very honorable quality in a dad today. I admire that.

Steven, I am so looking forward to reading THE ROOK!!!!! In fact... I am so excited... I think... I might... WET MY PANTS! Really, I'm not kidding, I can't wait! THE PAWN was amazing.

Rosanna B. said...

And I almost forgot:

Kudos to Doc Op for being the only one to stick to the topic at hand! Well done!

Steven James said...

Wow! Thanks so much to everyone who left comments and thoughts over the weekend. It was quite a lively discussion and handled with sensitivity and respect.

I read and appreciated the comments, but after some reflection I decided some of them would probably be best handled in a different arena so I deleted the ones that veered from the post.

Thanks again to all of you who took the time to share. As always, if any personal questions or issues come up, feel free to email my office: info@stevenjames.net so that I can respond to you personally rather than through the blog. Thank you.

And now, back to competition. :)

Anonymous said...

Tao Te Ching

All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don't love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.


The Master is above the people,
and no one feels oppressed.
She goes ahead of the people,
and no one feels manipulated.
The whole world is grateful to her.
Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.