by David DeWitt
This week our little family had its first real game night. That is, the first where Finn wasn’t trying to make up his own rules or rake all of the game pieces into a pile. The game of choice was Zingo. Kind of like Bingo except with little pictures on each square of the game card. A little gadget deals the game pieces two at a time. If you see one that matches an image on your card you have to grab it before another player does. The first player to fill up their card wins.
When we began, I wondered what Finn’s reaction would be if he lost, and, like most other parents, I considered trying to slant the game in his favor. I didn’t get far with that thought before I saw a little competitive being emerge with quick hands and the singular goal of domination. He won the first round but didn’t seem the least bit fazed when he lost the next one. He even seemed happy when Erin and I were winning, making sure we each got all the right game pieces. His enjoyment seemed to come from trying to guess whose card was going to fill up first. I loved seeing his easy-going spirit and found myself wishing he could somehow hold on to this healthy view of competition forever.
I thought back through my own childhood experiences of competition, some good, some not so good.
There was a brief disastrous career in little league but more positive experiences in elementary and junior high football.
I thought about how competition influences so much of our culture to the point where we perceive it to be in places it isn’t. We fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to people who seem to have it all together and then act as if someone is keeping a tally on how we measure up. I’ve heard so many parents say they feel in competition with other parents at the playground or in social situations. The art world presents its own challenges. When I’m in a venue with other artists, different as we all may be, it’s difficult not to compare myself to someone who’s more successful.
Recent studies say that competition is not innate in humans as previously thought. Our nature is to be cooperative, or help each other. Even animals that prey on each other create networks where they peacefully coexist most of the time.
How would life change if we no longer viewed our accomplished peers as competitors but rather as influencers spurring us on to develop our own best gifts? And what if we found ways to reach out to those who look up to us?
It may not solve all the problems in the world, but when we allow someone to excel without feeling personally diminished we’re allowing ourselves to shine as well.
Competition in itself may always be challenging, but family game night is a keeper.
David DeWitt is a painter, writer, and dad. He lives in Ulster County with his wife Erin and three year old son, Finn. To read David’s blog on art and fatherhood, visit daviddewitt.com.