In September of 2006, I was sitting in a mah-jongg group when the conversation turned to the real-estate market. I said I didn’t understand how lending companies thought it was a good idea to give interest-only loans. They were based on the idea that housing prices would continue to rise, and that, in my opinion, couldn’t happen indefinitely.
Another woman in the group clacked down a tile and said, “That’s why you aren’t a banker or loan office; you don’t understand those things.” I might add that this woman was bright and was in a powerful career.
Now, of course, it turns out that a lot more people had no idea how the market would sustain itself. The economy is in horrible shape. And now, before it becomes old hat, it’s time for me to point at something else that’s not working, that will have to change before the country gets it’s act together.
Competition doesn’t work. It doesn’t make people stronger. It doesn’t create better teams. Now, before you start lighting the torches and picking up the pitchforks, let me explain.
There was a time when competition was a simple pitting of a skill or product. At that time, the point of competition was to make the best of yourself and show it. The winner honored victory by pointing to the fact that a lot of talent showed up, and a good game was the best result. Winners were gracious in victory.
Slowly, this changed. Competition has come to mean more than winning, it has come to mean someone else has to lose. And not just lose, but be a “loser”— a term that has come into our vocabulary to mean a failure, rather than someone who didn’t win a game. Winning meant that any means to win was fair—doping, cheating, lying, it was all grist for the competition mill. If you weren’t “Number One,” you weren’t anybody.
To prove our own worth, we bought enormous houses with space we didn’t need, a bigger car than our neighbors, until a tank of an SUV, the Hummer, was a sign that you not only had $50,000 to spend on a car, but you didn’t care about how much gas you used. No one actually needs to drive a Hummer. It became some sort of twisted proof you weren’t a loser.
Companies vied against each other in ways that made winning more important than anything else. CEOs received bonuses that most of us in the common ruck won’t earn in a year. They deserved it because they were winners.
And now the winning is over. We all lost. Our culture lost, our society lost. Sure, there are still some super rich people who don’t care about anyone below their level of achievement, but the dream is over. 100,000 Americans lost their jobs last week. It’s time to wake up.
I’d like to suggest that it’s time to put away the competition–the fighting for the bigger piece of the pie. It’s time to admit we made a big mess, and go back to knowing our neighbors, sharing what we have and working together. Riding public transportation is a good way to get to know the people who live in your neighborhood. Giving them a ride is a good way to know them, too.
Buying in quantity and sharing is a valuable way to save money. It requires knowing and trusting people, instead of pitting yourself against them.
Pull your money from the huge, global banks that still are spending millions on decorating their offices, and use small local banks, who invest in your neighborhood.
Get to know who is good at home repair and ask them to help you while you help in their garden. Or create a baby-sitting or carpool group.
Our coming together as a healthy culture will begin when we admit that we need each other. We can’t make it to the top alone. Now, while so many of us are on a leveled playing field, might be a smart time to give up believing we are “Number One” and create a new community of awareness, sharing and helping each other.
And if I’m wrong, the worse that can happen is that you’ll have a lot of friends when the economy comes back. At best, this belief will build a new economy of ideas and learning, of sharing and building things of value. And our heroes and celebrities will be people who contribute to that culture, rather than people who are famous for their ability to stay in the public eye because of marriage, divorce, and clothing.