“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off”. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
When you think about the great endeavors of the 20th century, what comes to mind - landing on the moon, eradicating polio, the landing at Normandy? One thing I’ve noticed when I think about what belongs on this list, is that none of the great individual efforts made the cut. Sure, we have seen some amazing discoveries and achievements by individuals, but they pale in comparison to the moments when a large group came together to accomplish something that required everyone’s effort. Those truly great endeavors are accomplished through the virtue of cooperation.
When we think about a Free-Market economy (capitalism), we often think it’s driven by competition. But we need to look deeper. The true foundation is actually cooperation: people working together – a shared effort for a common benefit.
Our economy’s success or failure is largely a reflection of the health of our personal relationships. Every transaction requires trust. Is the product safe? Are the services fairly priced? Is my employee honest? Is my employer fair? The questions could go on and on.
That simple sandwich you had for lunch was the product of literally hundreds, if not thousands of people from farmers, to ranchers, to processers, to shipping, to packaging, to retail, and finally to the car you drove to pick it up. Everyone worked together and received some benefit from making your lunch.
Cooperation is motivated by the needs of the community. It recognizes that only by focusing on the needs of the group (or family, or marriage, etc .) versus the individual, collaboratively with the skills and efforts of others can we both meet others’ needs AND our own.
This is why cooperation stands as one of the great economic (and relational) virtues. People coming together to accomplish more than they can individually so that everyone benefits. Competition comes later in the process. After the need is known, competition brings efficiency.
Competition is why your sandwich likely tasted good and wasn’t $50.00. But here is where the problem starts. Cooperation values the needs and work of others; pure competition does not.
In March of every year 64 college basketball teams get together and have a little tournament. In a period of a little over three weeks they will whittle their way down to the two surviving teams. After that it’s one game, winner take all. A story of pure, unadulterated competition, right? Wrong!
The 64 teams that participated in the tournament got there because of a solid foundation of cooperation - each working together as a team, with their coaches, assistants, trainers, and the support of their family and fans.
I believe this is where the concept of “healthy competition” comes from. The search for excellence and efficiency, in community, where everyone benefits.
Whether we are talking about the economy or our family, the virtue of cooperation requires that we value and reward the efforts and contributions of everyone involved in our endeavors. We choose to win together. We choose the strength and health of our community over solely individual gain.
The great endeavors of the next century are, of course, yet unknown. What is known is that they will be accomplished by people who value, teach, and reward cooperation at all levels.
Photo credit: "Amunt!" by Jo@net is licensed under CC BY 2.0