striving together–redefining competition

By now, if you know me at all, you know I love words. When I was considering post-grad study it was in linguistics or ethnobotany, and both are branches of anthropology. I’ve all-ways been curious about why we do what we do & how different cultures display differences in how we humans do what we do, and why. If you were to ask anyone who knew me as a young person what word I asked the most, it would be “Why?” They would also likely tell you I’ve been driven to excel at whatever I set my mind to, from a very young age. My boyfriend joked about me being competitive & internally I debated this & wondered if it was a “bad” thing. I joked back,

“I’m not competitive; I just don’t like losing.”

So, of course, I needed to look into the root of this word to better understand how we use it today. And I was amazed & delighted to be able to reclaim this word & to now proudly be able to say, “Yes, I AM competitive! Aren’t you?” There are some words that have been twisted over time & by reclaiming the oldest meaning I can find of them I’ve been able to reinvent my vocabulary & my relationship to not only these words, but to the world around me.

Believe it or not, how you communicate–how you think, listen, speak, read & write, & what language you do it in–determines how you exist.

How you communicate determines your paradigm.

I brought this up in PocaHAUNTus–Shapeshifting History into HerStory. The Algonquin language base (of which there appear to be about 1 thousand language variations) is verb-based, in comparison to our noun-based English language. The best way I can understand & attempt to explain this difference is that it’s like the difference between Newtonian science & Quantum physics. One is based on matter & the other has matter in it, sure, but is more oriented around flow & the power of perception.

Imagine living in a world where nouns are more like verbs. It would require you to be far more subjective. What we consider as set or finite objects in English, in the world of the Powhatan people, would be seen in relativity to the current-&-changing circumstances. There would be no finished point. It’s not a house. It’s becoming-a-house. The tree that you know in winter has a different name in spring or autumn or summer or old age or youth… You see what I mean? English uses adjectives to modify fixed nouns & create variability. But what if instead of knowledge being a noun–an end-point–it was a process, a coming-to-knowing?

It would mean you could never arrive, never finish. 

Which brings me back to competition. How I have understood this word before is that unless I came in first, I lost. If I came in 2nd, then I was better than 3rd & 4th etc, but I was still not First. Not only was it about my own personal measures of progress & success, but some of those personal measures were created in relation to others, in direct competition with others. And this gets us closer to the original meaning of competition–to strive together, or to strive in common. Com indicates “with” & petition indicates “to make for, go to; attack, assail; seek, strive after; ask for, beg, beseech, request; fetch; derive; demand, require”.

I’m not entirely sure what it would look like to “strive together”, are you? Instead of scrabbling to get above you, or even just to position myself as seeming to be above you, what would it look, feel & sound like if we truly regarded one another as having equal right to good existence?

striving together
striving together

I am about to say something that may sound unpatriotic, but I’m going to risk being unpopular by speaking truth with the intention to see clearly & strive together to heal. Each time I return to the USA–which holds up to the world a very strong image of equality & democracy–I am struck by how often this facade falls short of reality. In truth what I witness is a caste system nearly as evident as I witnessed living in India. It’s not as accepted as it was in India. In fact my fear of coming across wrong arises from the denial & defensiveness I anticipate, & have already experienced, from United Statesians.

And as a dear friend said, defensiveness indicates fearfulness. If we felt secure, then there would be no need to defend. I am struck by how much energy goes to the military defense of a nation where its own people are struggling for health care, equal access to quality education, paid parental leave, & some sense of work security. Are we not all one people in this country &, in fact, on this finite planet? Are these not all-my-relations?

Feel free to respond to these questions & I ask that if you do so, that you please do it in this revived sense of competition–of striving together. Can you engage in this conversation without shutting others down?

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