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Most people think that human beings are fundamentally competitive, and they may be right if we look at human history. Industrialists and economists believed that Darwin’s theories justified an economy of vicious competition and inequality. This has left us with a legacy that says that the corporate economy — where wealth stays in the hands of a few — is best for humanity. This was always a distortion of Darwin’s ideas. Darwin, in his book “The Descent of Man,” states that the human species had succeeded because of qualities like sharing and compassion:

 “Those communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”  

Charles Darwin (c. 1854)
Charles Darwin (c. 1854)

He was not an economist, but wealth-sharing and cooperation have always looked more consistent with his conclusions.

There have been studies and research done on animals and humans in highlighting the benefits of cooperation. One of them was done by Michael Tomasello, who has done years of studies and concluded that the result in the study of animals showed that social selection had favored cooperation. He wrote:

 “Individuals who attempted to hog all of the food at a scavenged carcass would be actively repelled by others, and perhaps shunned in other ways as well.” 

Humanity began its existence from the Stone Age, where survival of the fittest was the rule of the time. It had to compete with the elements and hunt for food for its survival. Unfortunately, as man’s intellect developed and his economic circumstances improved, he did not have to be the fittest to survive, but he behaved in the same manner. It is an accepted philosophy that competition is praiseworthy at any cost and in all manners without considering the consequences. Economic theories are constructed on this philosophy, and it has become the second nature in most capitalistic societies. Baha’i Writings do not agree with this philosophy.  

In a talk in Washington, D.C. in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, said:

In the world of nature we behold the living organisms in a ceaseless struggle for existence. Everywhere we are confronted by the evidences of the physical survival of the fittest. This is the very source of error and misapprehension in the opinions and the theories of man who fail to realize that the world of nature is inherently defective in cause and outcome and that the defects therein must be removed by education.

In another talk at Stanford University that same year, Abdu’l-Baha explained:

 In nature there is the law of the survival of the fittest.  Even if man be not educated, then according to the natural institutes this natural law will demand of man supremacy.  The purpose and object of schools, colleges and universities is to educate man and thereby rescue and redeem him from the exigencies and defects of nature and to awaken within him the capability of controlling and appropriating nature’s bounties.

Although collaboration is getting more recognition these days it still has been entirely ignored in the economic field. The recent pandemic has highlighted both sides. We have seen the ugly side when different countries and states compete to buy the equipment to fight the virus, which led to skyrocketing prices that the developing countries can never afford. We can find countless examples of collaboration between individuals, communities, nations, and companies. People went out of their way to cooperate and share their resources. I read a social media statement that caught my attention: “Collaboration is our world’s most essential value right now.” 

It briefly explains the importance of collaboration instead of competing. It looks to me and many others that the survival of humanity depends on this essential human quality instilled in our soul’s DNA by the creator. 

This is how Abdu’l-Baha described cooperation:

Regarding reciprocity and cooperation: each member of the body politic should live in the utmost comfort and welfare because each individual member of humanity is a member of the body politic and if one member of the members be in distress or be afflicted with some disease all the other members must necessarily suffer. For example, a member of the human organism is the eye. If the eye should be affected that affliction would affect the whole nervous system. Hence, if a member of the body politic becomes afflicted, in reality, from the standpoint of sympathetic connection, all will share that affliction since this (one afflicted) is a member of the group of members, a part of the whole. Is it possible for one member or part to be in distress and the other members to be at ease? It is impossible! Hence God has desired that in the body politic of humanity each one shall enjoy perfect welfare and comfort.   

Time has come to do away with old habits of competition that has stayed with us from our primitive days. Even though the scenario has now changed, but instead of hunting and fighting, we still compete for territory, firms, businesses, and corporations compete in the same spirit of destruction. The big fish eats the small fish, and this is considered to be a success. But it is time for the fish to live and collaborate. We have to educate ourselves to get rid of this remnant of Stone Age behavior which has no place in modern society. 

There is nothing wrong with competing. We have seen even in the writings that encourage competing in the service to humanity. If we want to compete, it should be in the spiritual realm; we should strive to be the most generous person, to be the most kind. That is the real competition.

That is a healthy and spiritual competition that creates no harm, and it just increases the level of service to God and humanity. I am waiting for the day when the phrase “Survival of the Nicest” becomes more popular and appreciated.

2 Comments

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  • Javid Djalili
    Jun 04, 2020
    Badi, I respectfully disagree, as a Baha’i with a different perspective: the Baha’i Writings are not inherently anti-competition. There are many debatable points in your thesis: eg going to school and being educated will produce some students who are more intelligent and clever through tests and exams which are competitive. The big fish and the small fish will always act the same way unless God changes nature. Yes, we can say there is “bad” competition vs “good” competition. Everything you own is the product of commercial and scientific competition to bring better products to the market for the benefit of ...society. If you interpret the Baha’i Faith your way, people might mistakenly assume we’re communistic, God forbid.
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    • Badi Shams
      Jun 04, 2020
      Dear Javid, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. My intention in writing this material was a feeble attempt to highlight the harms of competition and the need for cooperation. The example of fish is a metaphor to make a point that we do not follow the law of nature and big companies drive small companies out of business. In my naive thinking, I believe that in the future as we spiritually evolve there will be no need to compete and every business will do their best to produce the best of product or offer the best service and if ...that leads to costumers choosing one over the other which causes a business to suffer there is the satisfaction that the intention was not to cause harm. I am happy that we see things differently.
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