An inquisitive BahaiTeachings.org reader wanted to know: is competition unholy?

Here’s his whole question:

This one is almost silly as I know that I know the answer, but it’s another one I can’t get off my mind. Is competition unholy? I say this in reference to sports and games. I play two sports, hockey and kendo, and love competitive games, but the question of competing against someone else has been on my mind.

The word holy usually means spiritually pure or sacred, and the word competition usually means a rivalry, a contention or a match of some kind. On the surface, yes, they can definitely seem incompatible.

Of course, when competition requires striving for excellence, it can have a positive effect by challenging us to simply do our absolute best. In sports, in academic study, in the promotion of courage, endurance or any kind of achievement, that individual endeavor can lead to a praiseworthy sense of accomplishment and personal development.

Competition can bring out the best in us, as long as we don’t allow it to appeal to our lower nature, and result in anger or hatred.

But if that happens, and a hyper-competitive focus on winning at all costs causes a direct loss to others, then competition can produce extremely negative results. In violent sports, for example, excessive competitive pressures can and do produce pain, injury and even death. No competition is worth that cost.

football

In the world of business, and in the arena of international relations between countries, competitiveness can also generate economic battles that harm people, as well as real flesh-and-blood battles that kill people. That strife, the Baha’i teachings say, can only be relaxed, rectified and reconciled by a gradual, loving application of love, unity and harmony:

Today all the communities of the world are engaged in fighting and quarrelling with each other. There is a religious strife, a sectarian strife, racial bias, patriotism, political contentions, commercial competition, industrial rivalry and a battle to defend their honour.

In reality these strifes are continual, and there is no cessation or interruption thereto. Now consider ye with what power and strength, love and devotion, union and harmony, happiness and joy the friends of God must arise, so that they may reconcile and crystallize together these different fighting and quarrelling communities. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 1, pp. 2-3.

In the modern world, the Baha’i teachings say, we need an increased level of cooperation and union to “crystallize together these different fighting and quarrelling communities.” The question then becomes: How do we bring about an increased level of cooperation between people?

If we still exhibit the hyper-competitive, survival of the fittest mindset we had when we lived in caves, then the old physical laws of self-preservation and competitive rivalries will continue to drive our relations with each other. But if we transcend those old physical laws—the laws of the jungle—we can begin to build a new human civilization, one based on the consciousness of our interdependence and cooperativeness.

That sense of growing unity, the Baha’i teachings say, represents the underlying spirit of this new era in human development:

To accomplish this great and needful unity in reality, Baha’u’llah appeared in the Orient and renewed the foundations of the divine teachings. His revelation of the Word embodies completely the teachings of all the Prophets, expressed in principles and precepts applicable to the needs and conditions of the modern world, amplified and adapted to present-day questions and critical human problems. That is to say, the words of Baha’u’llah are the essences of the words of the Prophets of the past. They are the very spirit of the age and the cause of the unity and illumination of the East and the West. The followers of His teachings are in conformity with the precepts and commands of all the former heavenly Messengers. Differences and dissensions, which destroy the foundations of the world of humanity and are contrary to the will and good pleasure of God, disappear completely in the light of the revelation of Baha’u’llah; difficult problems are solved, unity and love are established. For the good pleasure of God is the effulgence of love and the establishment of unity and fellowship in the human world … – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 313.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

4 Comments

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  • Derrick Wiegert
    Jul 05, 2017
    I believe competition began with Lucifer against the structure of existence. When he was ordered to take his rightful place at the left side of God. In servitude to humanity he felt that this was to be less than an individual worthy of attention or his own selfish/narrow minded idea of a God. Unaware of the consequences he mustered the angels to war and God was very aware but Loves Lucifer for who he is meant to be. I believe at the time Lucifer introduced sin into the world God in his love for all creation due to Lucifer's intentional ...perversion created Lucifer's prison of Hell. But I have been under the impression that Lucifer is Our rival, not Gods' and his allowance to affect the world is the only way we can know and love God
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  • Mark David Vinzens
    Jun 27, 2017
    We all have a destiny, a dharma to fulfill. Don't compete with others, compete with yourself and try to live in harmony with your inner nature and become the highest possible version of your self.
  • Steve Eaton
    Jun 27, 2017
    I had to think about it a lot in early
    life, and do every so often. There are degrees of emotional intensity in
    competition, but my essential
    conclusion hasn't changed: it works
    against a relaxed cooperative
    mood, and tends to produce adversarial vigilance instead, unless
    we always monitor our motives. Your article and Rich Young's comment look really balanced on the
    subject to me. Maybe we shouldn't
    worry ourselves sick about a few of
    the "old world's" contests, but
    know animosity and conquest are
    to be shunned, ...and naturally move
    toward a new way of relating.
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  • Rich Young
    Jun 26, 2017
    Competition can make learning a boring subject or skill fun, but it creates winners and losers. Somehow, everyone needs to feel successful. Mutualism is a better way, so that everyone can celebrate reaching the goal with help from each other. Competition with yourself in order to improve your own performance is a good use of competition provided it is in moderation. In my old age, I find that I can no longer enjoy playing games with others. I still like to win, I just don't like to beat others. "Strive that your actions day ...by day may be beautiful prayers." "Vie ye with each other in the service of God and of His Cause." -Motivation makes the difference.
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