Collaboration in our Competitive World

Friday nights in Purdy will soon mean tailgate parties, boisterous crowds and the epic struggle that is high school football. At the end of every game night, one team will leave the field as glorious victors, while the other will walk away knowing that fabled agony of defeat.

Football, like most sports, is described as a zero-sum game. A win for one team necessarily demands a loss for the other team. There is a winner and there is a loser; those are the only options.

Compare that football game to a different gathering. Think, for a moment, of a concert.

At a concert, everyone wins. Musicians share the joy of making music together. The audience enjoys their favorite band––Everybody who attends, whether performer or spectator, feels glad for a night well spent.

This is what collaboration looks like. Unlike a zero-sum competition in which one person’s win is predicated on another’s loss, in a collaborative event, everybody can win. The world abounds with these moments, from concerts to art shows, readings to shared meals, service projects to block parties.

The depth to which zero-sum theory has taken hold of our political discourse should concern us all. It seems for many that winning is only possible if another loses. One’s country, party or special interest group is a “winner” and all opponents are “losers.” No longer seeking the best for the country or community, it appears our political goals have been reduced to crushing those with whom we disagree.

One need only listen to the infantile remonstrations of many media personalities spouting political rhetoric to see this at play. The endless mockery and gleeful “owning” of people of different persuasions makes clear that victory over, rather than working with, others has become the goal.

Central to both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures is the idea of Shalom. Usually translated “peace,” Shalom carries the thought that I am well when all are well. The land is sufficient to supply our needs when we share and work together. Peace is possible not because we all necessarily agree, but because, through the land, God gives us all we need when we walk together humbly, caring for one another.

This was one goal of this summer’s combined worship service and picnic at Gateway Park in July. Our churches practiced collaboration and respect, rather than competition against each other. It was a joyful day as we joined together, seeking a common purpose of blessing our community. There was a sense of Shalom on that sunny summer morning.

Of course, competition isn’t always bad. It is essential in our pursuit of excellence. There’s nothing like the excitement of the Fish Bowl, cheering our proud Peninsula Seahawks on to victory.

When we turn every issue and discussion into a winner-take-all proposition, however, then we all lose. The biblical command was to “seek the good of the place I put you.” We can only do that when we collaborate, seeing even our opponents as partners in the larger goal of health, peace and prosperity. We’re all in this together.

Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church.

Writing by Faith