Contest Behavior

This page is about all things win/lose, punishments/rewards, and competitive behavior in general. Here are a few examples:

  • Many computer or video games. Points, pellets, bonus rounds, extra lives (If you know of noncompetitive ones please tell me about them).
  • War. Pick any one.
  • Incentive programs, award charts, summer reading games, box top collections at schools, scratch and win cards at fast food restaurants, frequent flyer miles.
  • Grades at school. Degrees, diplomas, certificates. Resumes.
  • Organized sports, tournaments, trophies, competitions, meets.
  • The legal system. Fines, tickets, prison.
  • More- chime in…

I am even more curious other more subtle and hidden behaviors that result from or are related to competitive, dualistic thinking in my culture and experience.  Here are some of those examples:

  • Order over chaos. So that things can easily be compared they need to be sliced and formed into smaller similar bits. It is easier to tell if you are succeeding or not if there is a scale or set of rules to follow. School and work schedules and behavior rules. The need to generalize, categorize, group and label.
  • The desire to “accomplish” something by finishing it. A book, a product, a conversation. The desire to read to the end of the book/article (even if it isn’t interesting, your bus is waiting, your child is shoving another in your hand to replace it). A sense of satisfaction from completing something (ie. emptying a box of kleenex, drinking the last of the juice and tossing that bottle in the bin) even if the act depletes needed supplies or is detrimental to the environment. Wanting to wrap up a “conversation” (more like information missile) and move on rather than linger in that uncomfortable moment of not knowing whether the other guy has understood you.
  • The desire for a physical reward. Presents on birthdays and holidays. Feeling like you need to buy something if you go to the store. Going to an event just because the first 100 people get a free “___”.
  • Framing conversations or interactions in a win lose format. Lets see who is right. Interpreting comments as critiques. The habit some supervisors or parents have of telling telling you one nice thing before criticizing another behavior.
  • The desire to quantify and balance all exchanges. The bag was ripped, maybe they’ll charge me less. They helped us with the yardwork last week, so we should help them move their couch.
  • The mandatory link between the act of giving and the consideration of return or exchange value of the gift. I can’t just get a book for Susan when I’m giving her sister a pair of pajamas. If he drives me to work, I should probably take him next week.  When making “donations” getting a tax receipt, feeling good about helping to “fix” someone else’s problem.
  • Conversation manipulation. The need to have the last word. To be right and make sure the other knows it. Or to be wrong and apologize. The need to subdivide conversations into tidy “information packets” (aka. bullet points). The need for every conversation to have a “goal”. In this very example, the assumption that I might be creating this bulleted list to declare “10 Certain Behaviors Related to Contest Behavior” Additionally, the assumption that these behaviors are all “bad” all the time.
  • Requirement that all business must have an intention. Seeing the world as having problems to fix rather than being a mystery to be lived. Teaching a child rather than letting him learn. Starting a phone call with “I was just calling to say…”. When commenting that you like your job at the homeless shelter, hearing back, “Of course because you get to help so many people” The urge for adults to find a goal in children’s behavior or activity (How great that your daughter is in gymnastics, maybe she’ll be in the olympics someday!)
  • Self deprication.
  • And there are more…

I bring these up because, for me, they are great obstacles to connection with others. Does anyone have any recommended reading on this topic?

One Response to “Contest Behavior”

  1. Deborah Says:

    I am very aware of what I call my A-student behavior. This is when I figure out how a social/political system works and how to “succeed” within it. Particularly how to please and extract praise from the people perceived to wield power within that environment. It wasn’t till I was an adult that I began to recognize how my ability to succeed within new systems diverted me from ever hearing my own voice, naming my own interests, pursuing my own desires. I still have a very hard time locating my personal motivation, and an even harder time pursuing it when it puts me on a path leading away from where the praise is.

    But I now try to make space for my own intentions and desires to take shape, and I practice being reason enough for myself.


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