Nature is exquisitely and ingeniously lazy. She builds strategies into life in order to simplify her work. Brilliant really, because once those strategies are in place, nature is able to relax and enjoy the show as the beauty and complexity of life unfolds. Natural selection – the process by which organisms best adapted to their environment are the ones most likely to survive and reproduce – is perhaps her greatest achievement. But in a finite world, the success of natural selection hinges on one strategy in particular, without which the progression of life towards ever more complex organisms would not be possible: competition.
Notably, Nature actually displays more co-operation and symbiosis than competition. Nevertheless, competition has enabled life to refine itself over and over again until, after billions of years, we stand here as the self-proclaimed pinnacle of evolution. In nature there is constant competition. Species compete with other species for territory and food; and individuals compete within species for mating rights and the privilege of passing on their genes.
In that respect, we are no different to every other plant and animal. We compete every day. We compete for time in the bathroom, space in traffic, seats on the commuter train. We compete for jobs, our boss’s favour, the next promotion. We compete for status, attention, attraction. Competition extends to every corner of existence and is the most effective strategy available for producing the very best without the subjects ever having to do anything other than behave ‘naturally’.
Competition is an unconscious strategy. It occurs because it is built in. It is inherent; part of our nature and we are only too willing to make it our master, surrendering all sovereignty to its unthinking influence. In business, for example, we cede control to the markets, allowing them to decide what should succeed and what should fail. All in the name of competition. When we do this we are copying nature and her efficient, over-arching technique of maximum effect with minimum effort. But what if we endeavour to do things differently?
What if we were to use our competitive nature more wisely – more consciously – to bring out the best in ourselves, rather than to condemn one another to defeat and demise? What if, when we felt that urge to compete, we took a step back and recognised it for what it is: a throwback to an ancient strategy, devised by nature to take the strain out of life’s evolution? What if we examined whether or not we are served by our competitiveness, and whether we might be better off overriding it? By questioning its suitability, we treat it like our emotions, which also evolved to serve us but which, in fact, so easily consume us.
Nature has used competition successfully to create elaborate and advanced lifeforms. The question is whether there are more suitable strategies available to us. After all, we have greater control over our evolution than anything else alive. We can take the wheel and steer it more deliberately than nature has ever done. When we do, we’ll discover we no longer need competition as much as we used to. In my next post, ‘Eyes Closed, Eyes Open’, I offer two conscious strategies which are so simple they have been largely overlooked for millennia.