Competition

Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton Moskowitz

I was cold, I was tired, and above all, I didn't want to be here.
A snow-covered branch, strategically positioned directly overhead, succumbed to its extra winter weight and gave way, causing a cascade of the cold white stuff to make a direct hit down the back of my neck. I controlled the urge to smash my snow shovel into the ground.
"Looks like you're having fun," said a familiar voice.
I looked up from the driveway to see my friend, the King of Rational Thought, standing on the nearby sidewalk.
"Many descriptive words are possible at this particular moment," I said, walking toward him. "Fun isn't one of them."
"So why are you doing it?" he asked, after explaining that he was out for a morning walk. "It's the weekend, and your driveway is flat enough that you could get your car out if you had to. Why bother shoveling the snow off? It'll probably melt in a day or two anyway."
"Because of the neighbors," I snapped.
He lifted an eyebrow. "What about the neighbors?"
"Well look around," I said. "Every one of them has already been up and shoveled his driveway clean. Mine's the only one on the block looking unkempt."
He pondered that for a moment but didn't even glance at the neighbors. Instead he looked right at me and asked, "How does a great baseball player evaluate himself?"
Now it was my turn to stare. "What?" I said.
"How does a great baseball player determine that he's great? What yardstick does he use?"
It seemed crazy to be discussing this in the driveway with the mercury below 30, but I replied anyway. "Well, based on batting averages, home runs, number of errors, stuff like that."
"I understand," he said, "but what is the basis for determining that a given number is the yardstick for greatness?"
What was he driving at? "You look at another great player," I replied. "You measure your results against his."
"So the other player becomes the yardstick?"
"Sure," I said. "That's the way it works in almost anything."
"Interesting," he said. "Has it ever occurred to you that, once you set up another person as the yardstick in evaluating yourself, you have made yourself subordinate to that person? You're subservient to him. That's the basis for competition. Whenever you go into competition with another person, you've automatically set him or her up as the standard. Notice that you haven't worked out an objective standard. You've just arbitrarily set up another person as the standard and are measuring your worth against that person."
He scooped up a handful of snow, began molding a snowball, and continued. "The problem is, of course, that the other person may not be a realistic standard for you at all. The standard for your behavior should be set objectively and rationally. Not on the basis of what someone else is doing."