Competition in Society: Can We Help It ?

Necessity and righteousness of the theory of competition has been disputed widely from different standpoints of society. Robert Nelson and Phillip Dawson offer in their article an exact debate using philological methods to provide a background to the act of competition and compare with our modern educational ideas. 

Nelson and Dawson nicely articulate their argument to emphasize that competition is in fact not an essential part to education as learning does not immediately require teachers and assessments. To compare, Hutcheon also traces back in time in an attempt to establish the origin of competition. Both articles discuss how students now lose sight of the true purpose of learning, by which should be the progress of positively gaining useful knowledge with the help of peers, rather than the objective to “beat” them.

What I personally liked about Nelson and Dawson’s article is the presence of realistic aspects we cannot avoid as human beings in the 21st century. Many elements of the world such as business, society, and even institutions themselves promote competitiveness, making it seemingly inevitable to people. The sad truth is, students like me would be more able to relate to the assumptions of competition being an integral part of education while only hoping it isn’t.

Nelson and Dawson provides several historical examples to help us understand competition. In art, competition was a prominent aspect by which historical figures, artists, and cultures themselves favoured them. It’s hard to disagree that being part of an audience of a drama, whether it be love triangles or protagonist-antagonist struggles, is actually exciting. Using Romeo and Juliet as an example, euphoria, sexual excitement, and intoxication are emotional states that competition can ignite when manipulated.

On a much more relatable spectrum, Nelson and Dawson describes how competitiveness played a role in European art: “understanding that competition existed” and “acknowledged that such competition is necessary and good; but it has limits.” I believe this is what most members of society can relate to, especially in the case for students. We accept that competition exists in our lives and we work diligently to improve ourselves among others but only with strategies that are ethical and moral.

Growing up in traditional Chinese culture, the fact that market competition is huge is constantly emphasized. I tend to favour with Darwinian theory as I was not forced into competing growing up but my self-inclination to prove myself whilst comparing my progress others causes me to believe that competitiveness is part of our nature. Whether or not our competitiveness is inherent, I believe the society itself has been an enormous cause to the level of competition we take. As the society looks for people suitable for certain roles to move forward, elements such as money and hierarchy either consciously or unconsciously cause members to want to be better and live more comfortably. Regardless, the dark sides to competition cannot be ignored. Psychological burden is very common nowadays and has intensified personally due to the lessened amount of adults who take initiative to approach students about mental health. 

As @himaniahmed had said in her reading response, I agree that educational systems themselves must spread awareness to promote curiosity-driven learning. Mental health and correct mindsets toward learning should always be the priority for students to not end up treating school activities like Hutcheon had mentioned. On the other hand, though it may sound pessimistic, I think it’s extremely difficult to abandon the competitive way of living. Modern society has been built competitively and will continue to search for the most outstanding talents and worthy investments. As real as it gets, to rid competition itself is a cooperative maneuver.


  1. Thank you for the detailed response, the callback to Hutcheon’s paper and the similarity shared between the two paper as mentioned by your response establishes an agreeable connection. The way you incorporate your own experience was also insightful on the matter being discussed. Personally I think schools should let students explore more on their interest, while our current system allows flexibility most of the time it is being held behind a perquisite of scores which restricts the freedom of the students. Competition is not necessarily bad but I think as more people joins the society and work force, the very idea of improvement will be shrouded by our desire to be better than others.

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  2. As someone who is well aware of the Chinese education system, I think our current education system do offers more flexibility, comparatively. To put it into stricter terms, I think the entire world offers flexibility but most succumb to peer pressure and follows the norm; to enter university, etc. I always admire my friends who pursue different routes like going to art school, specialized career schools, or start their own business, etc.

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