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Theodore Isaac Ruben, former president of the American Institute of Psychoanalysis, asserts in his 1980 essay “Competition and Happiness” from the book “Reconciliation: Inner Peace in an Age of Anxiety,” that competition serves as an unnecessary barrier on people’s ability to live happy and meaningful lives and that it “brings out the worst” in people. Because of this, he argues, competition leads to issues with identity, stress, emotional stability, feelings of self-worth and what he describes as a “cycle” of a self-defeating state of mind that compels people to compete. He provides an example by describing a previously noncompetitive university in Switzerland. Each student was graded individually without any quizzes or exams and only needed to learn and understand the material being taught. According to Ruben, Americans were not very motivated by this and responded by forming competitive groups.
While Ruben demonstrates some very excellent points I personally disagree. Ruben tends to focus more on the negative aspects of competition and neglects to consider the more positive features. While competition does have the potential to lead to an unbalanced life and possible physical/mental harm, there also benefits such as perseverance, determination, skills to cope with failure and the mindset for success. For example, every sport has competition in some way or some form. In basketball, there’s usually a team you become a part of. You use your mental abilities to formulate a goal for the game and opposing team along with incorporating physical features of yourself to achieve that goal. The experience alone is beneficial because you become physically strengthened, able to access more parts of the brain or be able to access them faster.
Other benefits Ruben neglects to mention are the friendships you would form with some of your competition’s opponents. This fact contradicts the dark picture of competition that he describes. As is common knowledge, friendships have a positive impact on a person’s life. Since competitions can provide opportunities to meet new people, competitions therefore can make a person’s life easier. Creativity can also come from competition, as you would make an effort to devise new plans with a team or with yourself on how to overcome the obstacles presented or how to get to point A to B the quickest. As it gets the mind going with fresh new ideas, one may think of or achieve this state of mind when working on a particular project and make more progress on it than one might have had this person not been in a competition at all.
In short, I believe that competition is not a danger nor complete harm to a person’s life as Ruben states. It would improve you mentally and physically, and while there is always potential for negative effects such as the ones mentioned I imagine that the benefits would far outweigh the cons if someone were to enter a competition. There is far more motivation to compete than for the incentives provided, and this serves as a platform on which a better life could be built on because of the many valuable experiences that could emerge from it.
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