Skills and education are a life-long investment, once you've got them they're with you forever. We should be spending our energy on that, not tearing each other down.
Growing up, I was frequently party to "us vs. them" vibes. Candidly, they never worked for me. "Let's beat the other guys!" was always met with an internal shrug. I've been thinking about this lately and decided it'd be worth it to dissect adversarialism to try and find the value in it.
So what's it good for?
All I could come up with was short-term motivational gains with a possible ego boost.
Short-Term Motivational Gains/Ego Boost
"Get out there and send that XYZ team kid to the moon!" yells the coach. This might create short-term motivation for the person getting that direction, and if that kind of approach is effective for that student there must be a psychological aspect to that.
"If I send someone from that other team to the moon my coach will approve of me, my team will approve of me, and I will feel better about myself because of it." External acceptance is a strong social motivator.
Being better than someone else is also a nice little shot to the ego. "If I tackle that kid from the other team I'm better than them." It makes you feel superior and more confident, as if you could take on the world.
But let's go deeper.
In the examples above, both the social acceptance and the ego boost are temporary for one primary reason: They are time-bound. As soon as a new play comes along those boosts are invalidated and you start from scratch.
I don't know about you but that sounds emotionally exhausting.
Adversarialism should be replaced by encouragement and support; we should emphasize internal vs. external motivators.
My first trip to WGI finals in Dayton, OH, was in 2015. I was lucky enough to have some great friends who had ensembles competing there. They let me get a feel for the event from a staff-standpoint by inviting me to help move their ensembles on/off the performance area.
By far the most impactful moment of that trip was when we were in the staging area waiting to perform and another ensemble that had just performed went by -- as they pushed their instruments, props, and speakers by us our students started clapping and cheering for them.
And it's not just happening at the UD ramp at WGI, it happened to the Mandarins when they made finals in the summer of 2018 c/o the Crossmen.
Take a second to let this sink in. Over 150 people chose to wait after their performance to congratulate another team, one that beat them 😮, on a best-ever placement. In that moment there were no competitors, there was only a community.
The energy that was put into that moment was less taxing and significantly more meaningful than the same desired result from an adversarial approach.
Not only that, but this moment and the goodwill fostered will live forever (it's not a temporary boost, it's a permanent part of each organization's history now as well as the community at large). The Mandarins organization will be talking about that moment for decades to come and crediting the Crossmen for showing such professional and positive sportsmanship.
What's the takeaway?
Energy spent on adversarialism is mostly a waste; it has limited value and a short lifespan.
Instead, the should focus should be on creating a community of respect and appreciation where competition is focused inward toward the individual and not pushed toward external elements that are out of our control.
Communities aren't built by tearing each other down, they're built with positive energy and encouragement. The saying, "A rising tide lifts all boats," is directly applicable here.
Circling back to the coaching example above, what if that same effort was put into the development of skills and growth instead of blasting another player? Learning how to do a job right doesn't expire. The confidence that comes from that doesn't get canceled out at the beginning of the next play or end of a season; students take that with them forever.
And the beautiful part is when they learn to apply the processes they've learned with you (growth and development of skills) to other aspects of their life and thrive throughout their human experience.
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Thanks for reading! If you have any thoughts, questions, or anything else please reach out. I always enjoy hearing from people.