Both Roberta Berg and Alfie Kohn discuss the idea that the hostility competitors feel for each other in an isolated competitive setting can transcend the situation and be realized in other aspects of their lives. I will argue that the propensity to view situations as pieces of a puzzle, and indications of a person’s character, rather than isolated incidents is what creates hostility outside of the competitive arena.
To begin, Berg’s discussion of ethics in “Competition and Cooperation: The Wisdom to Know When,” deals with the issue of competitors lying, cheating, and betraying each other in the Red-Blue exercise. Berg argues that when a person takes part in these unethical behaviors because they view the exercise as “just a game,” they are actually revealing something about their character (Berg, 186). While I do personally agree that something (whether it be significant or not) about this person’s character is revealed, I also think that immediately concluding that a person who lies, cheats, and betrays others in what they perceive to be a game, would do the same in a situation that they take to be more serious, is slightly rash. I think that just because they act this way in a situation that they perceive to be low-stakes, it does not mean that they are incapable of being trustworthy in a situation that holds higher stakes. While this idea may sound naïve, I believe it is very easy to preemptively make assumptions about other people’s character based on isolated incidents, and let these cloud all future judgements made about them. I think that if one were to observe the Red-Blue exercise and make judgements about each competitor’s character, he/she would find that he/she may have too quickly and too harshly decided that certain people are untrustworthy and unethical, while the reality may have been that their actions were unethical. From here, one would need to decide whether or not they believe that a person’s actions in every situation are what defines their character. I find montylussow’s claim that “the Red-Blue experiment reveals more about the values of business culture than it does about human nature” very interesting, and I think that this can be applied to the idea of separating the action from the individual. In the Red-Blue exercise, participants are simulating a decision-making situation that is not necessarily representative of how they conduct themselves in their everyday lives, nor does it clearly portray their moral compass. It shows how they act in a given situation. Montylussow’s claim emphasizes the idea that the actions one takes in this exercise may not accurately represent the character of its participants. If one decided that they do not view actions in isolated incidents as an indicator of another person’s character, they may find that they do not experience the transcendence of hostility towards this person outside of the competitive arena. This would likely be because they are able to make a separation between one competitive situation and other aspects of life.
Kohn also discusses the idea of hostility escaping the confines of a competitive situation and entering other aspects of life. He argues that “it is a small step from wanting someone else to fail at a particular task to wanting bad things in general for that person” (Kohn, 136). Kohn goes on to say that “I come to associate your disappointment with my pleasure, even when we are not in a zero-sum situation” (Kohn, 136). These statements are significant because Kohn is arguing that even when there is no situation that demands mutually exclusive goal attainment, there is still a sense of hostility that is present. I understood this to be partly because it can become difficult to switch between “competitive mode” and “non-competitive mode.” This ties back to the idea that viewing situations as pieces of a puzzle rather than isolated incidents is what creates hostility outside of the competitive arena. This is because in the scenario that Kohn describes, this person is tying the feelings/emotions that he/she had during the competitive situation to this other person’s life, rather than viewing the two (competitive situation and life) as separate. He/she associates his/her “competitor’s” shortcomings in life with his/her pleasure as a result of this being the case in the competition (where instead of life failures, it was competition failures).
Overall, I am not sure whether or not it would actually be possible to create a clear mental/emotional separation between competitive situations and the other aspects of life. However, I think that if this were possible, it would help relieve the hostility that people may feel when they are no longer actively competing, but rather experiencing life alongside former, present, and future competitors.