Monday, April 20, 2009

Seductions of a Competitive Culture (#1)

A CULTURE OF COMPETITION - a 4-part series
This is the first part of a group of four articles, tackling the seductions of a competitive culture. It will be released over the next two weeks. Each article will highlight the dangers of a competitive culture creeping into the aspects of our life at home, in the church, at our workplace and finally our personal well-being. At the end of each article, there is a suggestion for thought. Here is the introduction and Part I.
We live in a competitive environment. In the morning, we rush to beat the rush-hour traffic. In the office, we engage in strategic planning, organizational matters and operational issues in our workplace. Some try to outdo fellow colleagues performance-wise so as to gear oneself for a good annual performance appraisal. Others seek out customers to bring in more business, competing tooth and nail with fierce rivals. Eating can become stressful too, when we have to stand in the line early to order our delicious food. With limited parking lots, many rush to grab the closest available parking lot. The culture of competition is here to stay. With supply exceeding demand, the scuffle for the main prize gets more intense. One way to upend the competition is through strategic initiatives and business strategy.

The business guru from Harvard, Professor Michael Porter shot to fame with his venerable five forces of competitive advantage. For Porter, any business strategy is to design in order to gain competitive advantage. The basic premise is that all firms are not equal, and some can become more competitive than others. At the heart of his five forces is the concept of ‘rivalry.’ The level of rivalry increases whenever:
• Supply exceed demand;
• Slowing market growth;
• Low switching costs;
• High stakes involved;
• And many others….

Welcome to the adult world of hard competitive work. The advantages of competition are too many to list. Consumers will gain in terms of choices and greater bargaining power. They drive down prices. They offer choices. Competitive pressures keep suppliers in check to observe better quality and to adhere strictly to standards. On the other hand, we need to be aware of the downsides as well. In this series, I shall attempt to tackle four trends that we need to take note of, when living in a culture infatuated with competition. My main point is not to dismiss competition totally but to wisely think through any repercussions of a competitive spirit that affects us in our home, the church, the workplace and finally the self.

A) Creating Anxious Children (in the home)
I read an interesting article sometime ago about children forced to grow up too quickly. Instead of being allowed to be children, they are increasingly being forced to take upon adult-size problems. Private tuition takes priority over playing intuition. Topping competitive examinations supersede cooperative affiliation. School resembles a circular racing track rather than a garden for self-discovery and group co-operation. Fun and growth have succumbed to the competitive demands of productive efficacy and efficiency. Extra-curricular activities are increasingly deemed essential, rather than ‘nice-to-have’s. Many parents, want their children to grow up to be ‘better’ than them. Some will even force their children to do what they, the parents cannot do.
“I have always wanted to be a doctor, but since I can’t, I will do all I can to make sure my children can pursue the medical profession.”

“Since I have always wanted to be a _______, I believe that it is the will of God to let my children carry the baton of my dreams.”

“I know my son can do greater things, so I will invest all my resources to help him succeed.”
There is a deep-seated psychological tendency among many Asian families, that what a generation cannot achieve, the responsibility falls on the next. My parents often shared with me their unfulfilled dreams. At one time, they even swear that because they grew up poor, they are determined to make sure that their children will never suffer like them. While the intention is honorable, the end-result can be regrettable. We can unwittingly create a generation of anxious children becoming worried adults, dying unfulfilled when old. Why should children worry about performance and exam results, when they ought to enjoy the privilege of being a child?

Here is a deeper problem which is more disconcerting; that is, the stunted development of self-identity. This is especially acute when parents repeatedly impose their expectations on children at a young tender age. Instead of taking a role of a guide by the side cheering them on to walk according to their gifts and vocational inclinations, some of them brow-beat their children to submit to their demands, in the name of "It is all for the sake of your future." I have met people who selected a course of study for the sake of their parents. Last weekend, a gentleman bowing to parental pressures, chose Engineering instead of Art school. He was never truly fulfilled. These people gave up their choice in favour of their parent's preferences. They yield their vocational choices to that of the parents. Some adapted well. Others not so well, as they continuously endure the mismatch between their dreams and their parents’ expectations. When they enter the workforce eventually, they continue to live under their parents’ ideals instead of pursuing their own dream. Life is more than simply making a name or a living.

Parents, let children be children. Watch them play. Better still, play with them. Observe their inclinations. Preserve their childhood innocence. Do not create a fretful generation who feeds on competitiveness and activities that epitomizes human restlessness. These are adult problems that adults have to tackle, not the children. Do not let the anxieties of the competitive future world crowd out the any effort to identify the gifts and talents each child has. Above all, let the children be who they are meant to be: Innocent Children. A well-lived child in his childhood augers better than a pressurised child struggling to understand 'adult-size' problems in his/her innocent childhood years. It is a well-known fact in psychology that if a child is not given a chance to be a child when young, he will attempt to fulfill this need to be a child, deep into adulthood. Perhaps the seduction of a competitive culture is a test of our faith. Proverbs provide us some wisdom pertaining to the need for children.
In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence,
And his children will have refuge.
(Proverbs 14:26, NIV)

Fighting the seductions of a culture of competition can also be seen an act of faith. Who do we fear? Who do we want to be? Do we fear men? Or do we fear God? I submit to you, my reader, that children pick up not only our genes but our fears as well. Is our confidence in the Lord? How does your faith play out in a culture of competition?

THOUGHT: What if we keep the expectations and troubles of the adult world to the adult world? What if we do not carry over our work worries, or economic turmoil into the innocent domain of children at play? Perhaps, by letting children be children, we are helping them to become healthier persons as they reach adulthood.


Seduction #2 - Unhealthy Spiritual Competition (in the church).....

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