Friends Journal is looking to devote our May issue to competition. It’s a fascinating topic that doesn’t always get talked about. Old versions of our books of Faith and Practice have cautions that indirectly relate to competition: our aversion to gambling and games of chance; a commitment to equality and the valuing of a kind of personal humility that keeps individuals from standing out.
If you look back through Friends Journal archives, you’ll find warnings against competitive behavior. In 1955 Bess B. Lane of Swarthmore (Pa.) Meeting wrote that schools should “Place emphasis on cooperation, sharing, rather than on competition” and wondered if “competition is being overstressed in our schools.”
In 1972, Christopher H. Anderson, then a senior at Wilmington College, had stronger words. He contrasted his Quaker education with public schools, which he said “breed a social conformity, an intellectual blandness and a repugnant spirit of competition.”
By the mid-1970s you see a comprehensive Quaker vision coming out of the antiwar movement. It tied seemingly disparate issues such school bullying, military recruitment, war toys, and domestic violence against women. One of the most popular tools were collections of cooperative games for kids. These books ended up on the shelves of most meetinghouses libraries and were brought out for innumerable Quaker gatherings.
I no longer hear as much talk about the potential dangers of competition. FGC kids have been playing the game Wink forever (it’s said to be adapted from a nineteenth-century parlor game and has survived various attempts to squash it). Various role-playing games are quite popular among younger Friends. Most Quaker schools have sports teams, debate clubs, etc. Many Quakers participate in competitive sports and even more follow professional sports. Much of our lives are a careful balancing act between competition and cooperation. Is non-competition still a strong Quaker value?
The May issue will also include our annual Student Voices Project, a chance to hear from middle- and high-school students who are Quaker or attend Quaker schools (do you know someone who should write? Learn more at Friendsjournal.org/studentvoices/). Here are some queries we came up for them as they consider competition in their lives. They might be useful for anyone thinking about feature writing for this issue:
- How does competition fit in with the Quaker testimony of equality?
- What do you learn about yourself and others when engaging in competition?
- What does it mean to win or lose?
- How much does outcome matter in reflecting someone’s gifts, abilities, or worth?
- How has competition helped you grow or change?
- How do you encourage others to compete and challenge each other in ways that build community?