The Two Faces of Desire, Competition versus Cooperation

by Philip Jonkers

  1. When desire is immersed in an atmosphere of fear — such as fear of losing status, or face, reputation etc., or just fear of losing as is — the object of desire is pursued in a spirit of competition.
    In a succinct schematic format:
    Fear + Desire -> Competition
  2. When desire is immersed in an atmosphere of camaraderie, in which fear is excluded, minimized or compensated by an atmosphere of sportsmanship, the object of desire is pursued in a spirit of cooperation.
    In a succinct schematic format:
    Love + Desire -> Cooperation

Ad 1. This situation automatically generates envy (unhappiness at other people’s happiness) and sadism (happiness at other people’s unhappiness). That is, becoming unhappy if and when a competitor wins and one loses. Consequently, conversely, a sadistic desire for retribution naturally emerges. That is, to gain satisfaction (happiness) when one wins at the expense of a losing competitor.

If a person wins and all the others therefore lose, by the character of (ruthless) competition, the winner may, rightfully or wrongfully, anticipate envy coming from the others. He may expect them to harbor wishes of opportunities to exact sadistic retribution, situations in which the winner ends up losing, at the gratification of the others, to get even.

Ad.2. Desire of the second kind, i.e. desire backed up by camaraderie, is likely to yield better results with respect to the psychological well-being of the people involved, because there is no need for winners to become paranoid of envious and vindictive losers.

Any field, sport, discipline or endeavor can be presumed to be a superposition of these two extremes, competition versus cooperation. Which one component is the more pronounced depends on probably a lot of factors, such as geographical region, type of culture, political system, type, age-bracket, gender, etc.

Addicted to Winning

Maybe this helps to explain why the victories of top-athletes can have rather short-lived euphoric durations, when achieved in fiercely competitive environments and the winners cannot really share their joy with anyone of their peers, who naturally tend to be envious and sadistic rivals. To win a trophy or medal or championship must be similar for a drug-addict to get a fix. The euphoria of winning may manage to push the enveloping atmosphere of ever-present fear and anxiety to the background, for a while. But when the high wears off, the craving for a new fix (win) is quick to resume.

Although he probably meant it in a different way, it looks as if old Rockefeller was right indeed when he said that:

“Competition is a sin.” ~ John D. Rockefeller

Maybe it’s time we work to shift the emphasis from competition to cooperation and as such increase happiness and save us from the anxiety, envy and paranoia that belongs to a redundant addictive and actually quite inhuman drive for success.