Competition can be dangerous.
Not because a competitor may sprain an ankle in the heat of athletic battle, but because the competitive mind-set can damage spirituality and create self-centeredness, Donlu Thayer told Sunstone Symposium participants Friday afternoon.Individual accomplishment and victory encourage growth. But "the quality of the heart that fuels the drive to conquer, to establish one's own worth at the expense of others" is what Thayer deplores.
Thayer, an editor and writer with a master's degree in American literature, suggested that people create contests to find winners, but almost always there are more losers than winners.
The symposium, sponsored by a private foundation, features the reflections of scholars on theology and other matters involving spiritual life. The seminar, being held in the University Park Hotel, continues through Saturday.
For Thayer, competing has brought emptiness of victory and the agony of defeat. "Competing never really brought me anything I really wanted, never brought peace, or love," she said.
Competition against opponents takes many forms, she said. A competitive attitude may make a contest of everything from parking to parenthood.
Illustrating her point, Thayer related an incident that occurred recently in the parking lot of a department store in Provo.
The parking lot was crowded. She and her children pulled up in their car just as another car was leaving. She waited a few seconds while the car backed out and then began to turn into the space.
Suddenly, a small car shot around from behind her, cutting across her path and into the space. The woman driving the car grinned and waved a clenched victory fist while the driver's children in the back seat cheered.
"A little thing, I suppose," she said. "But it was distressing to me, and to my children, that they should care so much for victory and so little for us."
She honked her horn as she passed, muttered something unflattering and wanted to kick the tires of her opponent's car.
Later, she worried she had set a bad example for her children.
She worries about the increasing competitiveness in her children as they grow and wonders if it is something they are learning from her.
"As they grow, as they learn to assert their own wills, find themselves, protect themselves and advance themselves, it is likely that they will find, as I have, that yielding, to God and to others in love, can become more and more difficult," she said.
There must be opposition in all things, but "we must take care not to see an opponent in all things." Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometimes measure their worth in quotas - number of meetings attended, positions of importance held, she said. Pride and competitiveness can keep people from establishing a true community within the church, Thayer said.
"Trying to measure up to the happy Mormon image, afraid that we appear less than perfect, we are sometimes lonely. Although our lives are tied up in the church, we measure and judge ourselves and others and imagine they are measuring and judging us, and so we feel divided from one another."
Paraphrasing the thoughts of philosopher Alfie Kohn, Thayner said, "I don't mean to suggest that we stop improving ourselves, stop building character by challenging our minds and bodies, stop playing, stop having fun. But I want to suggest that true play, true accomplishment, true improvement are not competitive activities."