One of the things I love about living in Ashland, Oregon is the Food Coop. It’s a thriving cooperative business that supports local agriculture and economy. And it’s the best place for an unplanned meetup with friends. Perhaps the Ashland coop does so well because there are no Wholefoods-like corporate “health food” stores here in Ashland. But I think the Coop would thrive even if there were more competitors, because so many people in the Rogue Valley support cooperative, community-minded businesses.
In our current “market-driven” economic system, competition creates a healthy consumer market. It keeps prices down and product quality up. Similarly, in sports, competition keeps athletes in top shape and encourages peek performance and skill development. A certain amount and type of competition is healthy and helpful in our society. Unfortunately, competition has been our mode of operation on a personal, national and global level for thousands of years. And, rather than creating a healthy framework for a thriving, just and free society, competition has put us at war with ourselves, each other and our planet.
The kind of competition I’m talking about shows up in many forms: judgement, unworthiness, jealousy. It is our unrecognized reaction to fear. And, most often, the fear we are reacting to is also unrecognized. Unconscious fear drives much of our behavior and decision making. How often, in relationship to someone, anyone, do we feel less than or better than because of something the other person says or does? How often are we afraid that we are not good enough, won’t say or do the right thing, will hurt or be hurt, betray or be betrayed, scorn or be scorned? How often do our interactions with another person cause us to compare ourselves with them, thus feeling better than or less than?
In truth, we are the same, and our differences are only appearances. Competition denies the truth and puts us at odds with everything. It puts us in pain and effort because instead of simply allowing ourselves to be what and who we are, and to feel what we are feeling, we are trying desperately to be or feel something else. Competition says “your not good enough the way you are right now, you have to be better, do better, have more stuff, feel differently.” Competition has us constantly comparing ourselves to others, thinking we are better than or worse than another in some way, which only leaves us feeling illusory superiority or inferiority.
What if we could completely accept ourselves in every moment just the way we are, with whatever we are feeling or experiencing? This kind of “radical self-acceptance” would not only allow us to be happy no matter the circumstances, it would unleash tremendous creativity, and the compassion and peace necessary to work cooperatively with others.
2012 has been named “Year of Cooperatives” by the United Nations. I see this as a wonderful initiative and call toward a global shift in how we relate to ourselves and each other. By bringing attention to, and celebrating, cooperatives on the planet, we are recognizing the potential we have for relating, creating and living cooperatively rather than competitively. In order for cooperation to replace competition as our mode of operation on the planet, we first need to acknowledge where we are in competition with ourselves. We cannot hope to manifest global cooperation if we are competing with ourselves internally. If we are not happy with ourselves, it is a sign that we are competing with ourselves. When we are not happy with ourselves, we have believed the lie that we are not good enough, smart enough, rich enough, old or young enough.
In competition, we aren’t enough. In truth, we are unlimited, infinite Spirit. How could the unlimited and infinite not be enough? It is only the appearances when we are in this world that hypnotize us into believing the lie of scarcity and succumbing to the war of competition. As we remember and continue to recognize our true nature, we allow the creativity and abundance of cooperation to heal our divisions and restore harmony, sharing and well-being to humanity. While cooperation unites us and multiplies our potential, competition limits and divides us: it undermines our ability to create what we’d like to create in the world, and prevents us from being happy with ourselves.
May we all see and forgive the divisions of competition with ourselves, and relate with acceptance and generosity toward ourselves and our fellow human beings. This is how the new paradigm of cooperation emerges.