Pride, envy, cooperation and competition

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I graduate next week from the Army’s Advanced Leadership Course. I’ll have been here 56 days at that point.  I’ve learned a lot, and was successful; I graduated on the Commandant’s List, which is the top 20% academically of the over 200 NCOs in my class. The cadre evaluated our oral and written communication skills, as well as critical thinking and leadership ability.

But one thing in particular bothered me after a few weeks here. The competition between members of my platoon after about two weeks degenerated into back-biting and jealousy. One person told me that he felt our instructor showed favoritism toward me because on several occasions the instructor indicated to the class that I was doing well. I tried to quell the subtle and growing animosity by some by remaining humble and being helpful to them whenever I could. This mostly worked except for a few, who became particularly spiteful when they learned they were not chosen for Commandant’s List. I myself did not make it a goal to be on the list, only to do the best I could on each project and to project a personality and skill that would make people want me on their team, should they have to choose. The Commandant’s List was not only a construction of the cadre, but also of peer reports on the most capable in the class.

To be sure, there were many in the class who did not express jealousy or envy, which I find to be one of the most repugnant emotions in existence, particularly when displayed by men. Jealousy is an open admission of weakness and lack of self-confidence. if I find it growing in myself, I smash it down and look in the mirror to see the ways I can improve myself as opposed to wasting energy picking at someone else. Of course there are times that criticism of others is valid and needed. but tact and courtesy should be employed in those cases.

Looking back at my younger days and considering the effects of competition, I realize one of the reasons I did not perform well in junior high school was that I hated competition with strangers. I preferred a feeling of cooperation and camaraderie. Perhaps it was because I was searching for a family, a clan. At some point I had to toughen up. I began lifting weights and became very physically active. Slowly, my aversion to competition faded.

The first really difficult thing I ever did as an adult was attend the US Border Patrol Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. There, I was surrounded by people who’d had much more exposure to competition than I. Many people at the Academy were military veterans; I had a college degree and worked at a corner store at that point. Certainly nothing that challenged me, or made me take pride in myself. In the first half of my time in the Academy, I struggled. I didn’t put in the needed study time that’s required to learn a foreign language, as well as federal law. But at some point, things clicked, and I shot up in my class ranking in language skill. That was a turning point in my life. Never again was I to struggle in any academic setting.

Colonel Jeff Cooper said that pride was a key component in a good soldier. I agree. Pride drives us to despise being last. But I still place a high degree of importance on sportsmanship and humility. When we lose, we should gracefully give credit to our competition. This builds the team, the clan, the family. In the end we make ourselves more successful in doing this. Too much pride breeds envy, the feeling that somehow we deserve more than perhaps we do.

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6 thoughts on “Pride, envy, cooperation and competition

    Bill said:
    September 20, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    o be sure, there were many in the class who did not express jealousy or envy, which I find to be one of the most repugnant emotions in existence, particularly when displayed by men. Jealousy is an open admission of weakness and lack of self-confidence. if I find it growing in myself, I smash it down and look in the mirror to see the ways I can improve myself as opposed to wasting energy picking at someone else.

    Perfect

    wtp said:
    September 21, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    But one thing in particular bothered me after a few weeks here. The competition between members of my platoon after about two weeks degenerated into back-biting and jealousy.

    Please tell me that this Army Leadership course washed that attitude out of them, otherwise I’d hope that the Army sees the need to add to the course a means of addressing such.

    This does touch on something central to the philosophy of human cooperation. Where is the line drawn between “us” and “them” or “me” and “us”? When people are too individualistic, they fail in opposition to systems that know how to get people to cooperate. However to get the best out of people you want them to compete. A great leader will know when to break those boundaries down and when to build them back up again. Hopefully with the goal of imparting as much capability into each individual. But there’s no formula for such and I doubt such ability can even be taught. I sometimes wonder if such leaders only appear in situations where those qualities are needed. In situations where those qualities are not needed, that same person could be persecuted and/or ignored. For better or for worse. If that make sense…

    magus71 responded:
    September 21, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    No, it didn’t address this. But the Army’s problem with leadership is more striking than in any organization I’ve worked in. At the PD we never talked about leadership, at least not in any formal manner. I liken this to the reason that fat people talk about diet more than skinny people. The Army talks about leadership all the time, and it has huge problems with leadership.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/darwinatwork/2014/01/10/toxic-leaders-and-the-social-environments-that-breed-them/

    T. J. Babson said:
    September 22, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    The question of what kind of leaders an organization selects is indeed very interesting. I suspect that one can also tell whether a culture is healthy by looking at its leaders.

    The “toxic leader” mentioned in the article Magus linked sounds a lot like a narcissist. I actually worry more about the spineless, ass-covering “leaders” who are little more than bureaucratic weather vanes.

    Magus, is the toxic leader or the weather vane a bigger problem in the military?

    Royce said:
    September 22, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    A very interesting post and it describes many of my experiences through the years. The first and only leadership class I ever had was at Fort Hood when I was a cadet. That was an outstanding class that lasted me a life time. There is a lot to leadership but I always summed it up as successes belong to the team and failures to the leader. I found in practice when I was willing to accept responsibility for results people would follow me. Jealousy and back stabbing exist and I never found a way to counter them except through watching my own performance and doing the best I could — it usually worked but not always. You remain one of the most interesting and intelligent people I have met (virtually). You should be an officer the military certainly could use you in a larger command role.

    Jay said:
    October 9, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    This is a very mature and well thought out post.

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