We live in a society that is consumed with competition. You see it everywhere you turn — sports at all levels, academics in school, besting you coworkers for a better raise, one-upping your neighbors. Competition is so ingrained in our nature that we hardly notice it and rarely consider the consequences.
Cooperation is also ingrained in our nature, but its importance is downplayed.
Consider sports as an example. You might say team sports are all about cooperation. The better you cooperate, the better your chances of winning. On that point, you may be correct, but when is the last time you watched a football game and bragged about how well you team worked together? Yeah, never right? You talked about who won! My team crushed your team! Your team sucks! We are the champions! Cooperation is a key part of team sports, but it’s rarely the focus. The focus is on the win – on the competition.
I was taught competition from an early age. I was in constant competition with my brothers. Competition for attention, competition in games and sports, competition for the best grades in school classes. It was always about who did the best, who hit the ball the furthest, who was bigger on the growth chart, and on and on. I’m sure my parents weren’t different than most in these regards, as I still see the exact same patterns repeating in the families or friends and acquaintances. Without thinking about it, they are pitting their children against each other in the competition of life and family.
I often wonder what would happen if we moved the focus from competition to cooperation. Logically it seems that we could accomplish more if everyone worked together. If you have a big project at work, you don’t assign 10 people to all compete on the same task, you get everyone together to cooperate as a team.
It’s a touchy subject, because many people are convinced of the need for competition. In some cases it does drive innovation, consider the competition between Apple and Microsoft. You might say that competition propelled the personal computer industry and eventually the smart phone industry. Along the way there were a multitude of lawsuits for patent infringement that often slowed the advance of that technology. Imagine what could be if these two giant powerhouses of technology shared information and worked together instead of against each other. We might be traveling in flying cars by now. Maybe that’s a stretch, but I have to imagine that technology would advance at a faster pace if innovation could be shared instead of hoarded.
It’s this competition society that drives rampant consumerism. People want to have the best, and in most cases feel a sense of pride when they get something better than those around them. Be the first person to get the iPhone 5000 and watch you friends swoon over you new piece of tech.
Minimalists, on the other hand, have distanced themselves from the ways of the typical consumerist. They have less need to own things, to one-up their friends, and to have an inventory of things just in case. Instead, they share more. Some live in multi-family housing, like apartments and condos, where they can share common areas and amenities. They are more apt to borrow rather than buy. The ladder I recently borrowed from my father-in-law for example.
Cooperation comes easier when you are satisfied with your home, your stuff, your financial position, as many minimalist tend to be. When you aren’t competing with your friends and neighbors, you can have better relationships. The relationship becomes about appreciating your achievements instead of bragging about them. When we are all on the same team, we can authentically cheer each other on instead of secretly wishing we had their car, house, phone, and money. When you move away from consumerism and towards minimalism, you can migrate from a competition mindset to a cooperation mindset.
Instead of wishing for this change, start it in your own family. Have your kids work together on projects and activities. Talk to them about the value of sharing and working together. When they play sports, compliment them on how they worked together with their teammates. Lead by example, by not competing against your children, spouse, and neighbors. Be the change you want them to see. Place less value on stuff and more value on relationships and activities.
Maybe if we share these lessons of minimalism, simplicity, and cooperation with our kids, we can lay the foundation for families that actually enjoy spending time together, eliminate jealousy in friendships, and grow children into happy, content adults.