Competition between human beings is everywhere, from sports to business and classroom to workplace, or simply overtaking the car ahead of you. Whether the competitive instinct is in human genetics or acquired through the ages has been long-debated without a clear answer to date. There seems to be little in life for which humans don’t compete because nearly every resource on earth is limited. Competition is, therefore, an inevitable result of the existence of scarcity, not a political or economic idea invented by capitalists.

The Bright Side of Competition

Theory seems to suggest that when people compete to do something, they do it better. Human beings need a deadline, a goal to be achieved and a prize to be won, along with the feeling of success that comes naturally with it, driving them to further accomplishments. Competition encourages innovation and creativity to overcome obstacles. If we were all equal, why bother to go watch a soccer game or even throw a hoop at a fair? Without competition we would all be paid the same, which is what communism tried, and failed miserably. Competition in a free market economy benefits consumers, the economy, and society in many ways. Competition pushes sellers to offer higher quality at lower prices, workers to work more productively, and employers to treat their employees better. In education, research indicates that students in private schools tend to have higher achievement rates than their counterparts in government schools.

The Dark Side of Competition

However, competition has its flip side too, and seems to cause more harm than benefit. For example, though the concept of healthy competition is generally promoted, it is hardly understood, and may actually produce the fruits of bitter rivalry rather than cooperation, with each participant taking a narrow view of success as lording it over the other. Thus, competition tends to creates severe stress, with the suicide rates among students in Japan and India serving as a stark example of the evils of competition. In the business world, competition often means that some firms will fail, leaving people without jobs, as we have increasingly seen in the USA, the irony being that competition itself has created giant monopolies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple who have selfishly gobbled up all smaller fish before them.

Harnessed wisely, our competitive spirit can be a wonderful source of motivation and inspiration; yet the same instinct left unbridled could make our lives unfriendly, lonely and ultimately self-defeating.