Two contrasting forces have shaped human evolution and resulted in the kind of people we now are. One has been the pull of competition – the need to establish zones of control and hierarchy to establish patterns of dominance in the struggle for survival.
The other has been the move towards co-operation – mutualism, symbiosis, sharing and working together. This probably finds its ultimate expression in kind and compassionate relationships in an open, inclusive society.
So we have a tension between living competitively and living co-operatively, and this tension has eventually resulted in the society and civilisation of the modern world. In reality both have been an integral part of our development and will continue to do so in the future.
However, in recent decades the drive to compete has helped to fuel an excessively aggressive ethos in many places. We live in a culture which seems to reward competitiveness, and often ignores (or even victimises) those not able to participate in such a ‘cut throat’ world. Our aspirations to do well economically, frequently encourage individualistic achievements and acquisitions over and against others.
We share less as we spend more. We share less time with friends and family as we spend more with our ‘gadgets’. We share less space, less meaningfulness, less love as we become distracted by our purchasing power. Our relations with other people are played down as our relations with things are apparently given higher priority.
There are profound implications for an unhealthy imbalance between rivalry and collaboration today.
On the whole our faith traditions have tended to favour togetherness as a high social and spiritual goal. It is in loving and caring for one another that we experience divine Love. It is in sharing the resources of time and space that we grow as the people God intends us to be.
This bias for co-operation rather than competition is expressed in religious scriptures and teachings. Remember the ‘golden rule’ – do unto others as you would have them do to you…
But there is another angle on this in terms of our environmental agenda. Many faiths, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, express the importance of ‘the limited good’. In earlier cultures land and wealth were seen as being in restricted supply. One could only gain more goodness by somebody else losing their portion. That meant ensuring the respect and protection of what we are given, and a more egalitarian sense of distribution.
The principles of the Sabbath and Jubilee are obvious examples. From time to time, as human beings we need regular opportunities to redistribute lands, to write off debts and to let the Earth lie fallow. At these times we are not in competition but we pull together, develop more co-operative skills and emphasise that the community (at whatever level) is essential to our becoming more human before God.
In today’s consumeristic, wasteful and overly competitive society we need to re-affirm the essence of being co-operators and to live more simply so we all may simply live.
Or, in the words of the liturgy of grateful sharing (the Eucharist), “let us pursue all that makes for peace through justice and builds up the common good…”
All best wishes – Martyn
“We are not custodians of a museum or of its major artefacts to be dusted each day, but rather co-operators in protecting and developing the life and biodiversity of the planet and of human life.” Pope Francis