The competition for status and the need for recognition by society have forced individuals to earn more and more by hook or by crook.
--BY JAGDISH PRASAD AGRAWAL
Competition is the recognition of varied levels of merit in every individual and the equal opportunity to show them without any hindrances or hassles. It is the cornerstone of liberalism and the market-led economic structure but this is not to say that it is a new concept originating in the twentieth century, although, with the emphasis given to it now, it definitely belongs to post World War II. From ancient times until the eighteenth century there are many narratives available of competition being organised under the patronage of the then enlightened rulers in the fields of sports, and fine arts such as poetry and paintings. The traditional legacy that this generation has inherited in some form of heritage the world over, in many ways, is the output of such competition whether from ancient Rome, Greece, China, India, and even Nepal.
Survival of the fittest, the sustaining ability of the species, and the evolution of mankind against all odds natural and man-made are inherent in any form of competition which is a statement of the capability to win. Competition is not static, it is change, an evolution, an effort to be better and excel. It is an acquired characteristic most of the times propelled by the necessity of survival but many times triggered by peer pressure to be better than others. In today’s milieu competition is a buzzword in marketing but it is omni-present in an individual, family or society where dualism exists, where there is a choice between the two.
In the olden days there was rivalry and not competition. Rivalry has an undertone of winning and losing and, as Shakespeare said, “two stars keep not their motion in one sphere”, the rivals were always at loggers-head but competition is more positive. It is striving to excel, perennially measuring and challenging oneself to stay ahead with malice towards none. The three dimensions of competition i.e. measuring, improving and innovating defines an overall ambience of competition for an individual, society and the market. The new generation is not only witnessing it but living with it. The irony is that the spirit of competition, which is supposed to sustain and enrich the social norms intact while making efforts to excel, is undermining and eroding the very sanctity of the endeavours by what is known as the rat-race.
It has been said that “nothing is ever done beautifully which is done in rival-ship.” It is welcome that the elements of rivalry are giving way to healthy competition which has to its credit many achievements the present generation can proudly boast of. Individually, competition is no more a rivalry, it is participative, to excel together. Instead of an art it is becoming a science of improvement and change.
But the other two new arenas of competition which have emerged recently i.e. the society and the market, are posing more challenges in terms of strength, weakness, opportunities and threats.
The market for product and services as we find it today is totally different from the market a decade ago. The speed of change is so fast that the tools of analysis for competition to identify future profiles are becoming outdated. The turnaround in communication, imaging, medical sciences and the source of alternative energy are some of the examples of the cutting edge which have come not from tools of analysis but human-led innovation. These technologies have enriched human living but at the same time displaced many people who were engaged in old businesses.
The growing application of artificial intelligence in industrial enterprise will definitely bring a plethora of benefits in terms of enhancing productivity and reducing wastes and error but simultaneously the potential of this technology also lies in causing inequitable distribution of these benefits by rendering many people unemployed. These upheavals in the market, whether in a product or service category or in import or export across the countries, are so enormous that it is becoming unpredictable as to which of the companies will survive and which will go down. The competition is so fierce that unless one has a divine vision of the future, the responses to such uncertainties is becoming more and more challenging. Definitely quantitative analysis of the market will not help, however, a tab on trends on social behaviours may give a glimpse of the future demands, and the development of suitable technology only will reinforce the strength to continue to remain in the market.
The challenge is that the same demands of a consumer are being met differently by innovative products created by new technology. Hence the future competition in the market has become complex and costly because of the requirement for fresh investments in research, development and differentiation; all these elements entirely depend on human resources. It is paradoxical that with the world population reaching almost 8 billion soon, the availability of cutting edge human resources is becoming like “water water everywhere not a drop to drink”. No longer does the suppressed demand define a product or service development rather, the technology driven new products or services are creating new demands differently and the emphasis is on mass market rather than on niche segments. They set their own standards, tastes, choices in the market and are confident that their whims are the fashion of the day. The future competition in the market varies contextually, unpredictably and arrives suddenly. This challenge needs deep discussion so as to be prepared on time. It is a welcome development that the competitive forces of today’s market not only enhances the quality of products and services but also lowers the costs to reach out to the masses. It is enriching the lives of the people.
However, the pitfalls of competition in the market are many. Prominent among them are a) Consumerism b) Inequality of distribution of income c) Moral degradation and the d) Corruption in public life. An individual to remain ahead resorts to all sorts of means which may or may not be ethical or moral by any standards. This is true of business, the conduct of politicians and the behaviour of civic society. The ever growing consumerism and consequently the conspicuous consumption which has become a startup symbol is at the root of all evils. Buy, borrow or steal has become the core mantra of living.
The competition for status and the need for recognition by society have forced individuals to earn more and more by hook or by crook which results in an erosion of values in one’s conduct whether private or public. The distribution of income is not related to hard work, honesty and merit but is the outcome of who is smarter and can outmaneuver his peers. This phenomenon is visible universally. Most countries have stories of corruption to tell. The public funds are open to be looted and in order to be a beneficiary of this loot, there is a scramble among politicians to ascend the throne and remain there forever, for which they resort to all sorts of unscrupulous means. This sorry state of affairs starting from an individual to society to politics has made life unlivable for an upright person, all attributed to competition.
Another crucial positive spinoff of the competition is discernible in the sphere of society. This spinoff is welcome as it gives voice to those who were suppressed, like women and the down-trodden. Though income distribution in a competitive world tends to be skewed, however, it opens doors where their voices can be heard and compels us to make space for them. The privileged and elites are no longer the preferred and dignified class in society. They are losing their sheen and have started talking in terms of inclusiveness. The outcome of competition from below has started reshaping the contours of society. Their voices are no longer in the wilderness.
Similarly, there are many other social issues which are competing to be heard in the din and bustle of many non-issues. The new generation advocates capability and merit and not experience which have given birth to a new competitive milieu between the old and the new, tradition v/s modernism. These conflicts do create social tension in the beginning, as any change is risky but slowly and steadily these tensions mellow down to competition and hence to acceptance. The youth of today is fighting tooth and nail against nepotism and favouritism in public life to find a respectable space for merit. It is in this ambience that competition can flourish. As fallout, the politician, to be popular has started to speak for these voices and stand for merit. The irony is that once they attain a certain level of popularity they start to be boastful, authoritarian and narcissistic, this phenomenon denies competition. However, the conflict in political life generated out of public awareness has given the competition a new challenge, a new substance and a new story.
Climate change, green house emission, pollution, scarcity of water are the new challenging agendas in the social as well as political media which demand to be paid attention to by the world community. So far, like back benchers, these issues are competing hard to be in the forefront along with the issues of poverty, health and the education. Economic development as represented by industrialization and the impact of pollution is undergoing a sense of introspection as to be compatible with the demands of clean-energy and the global goal of temperature parameters.
It is a good thing that competition is not confined to the market. There are many social issues which are in competition along with economic issues and the combination of social and economic issues jostling with each other are generating new ideas for living together symbiotically. Issues of faith v/s rationality, private v/s public, individual v/s institution, secularism v/s religion, racism, sex abuse are important agendas for competitive thinking for which society is in a transit phase today. The religious institutions which have continued to remain conservative are under pressure to change their views on divorce, abortion, remarriage, contraception, etc, in line with contemporary thinking. Any thought or idea is amenable to be copied or adopted by others sooner or later and any attempt to erect hurdles is protested in today’s flat world. Every society is in competition with the best in others.
Competition is a contemporary concept. It is not rivalry. It is a way of life to excel, imbibe what is best and innovate for the future. It is acceptance that quality is relative and by competition it can be achieved. However, it is time to sideline the abuses of unhealthy competition and focus on reason, enlightenment, pragmatism and a razor edge focus on the benign outcomes of dignified human values. In the name of competition abandon fashionable, superfluous trendy battles, agitation and tears. Using reason and logic competition is a better choice than the blind rat-race of unfocussed, weak, ineffective, mindless fury. It may feel good in the short run but will not result in substantive reforms. However, silence and inertia also is not the right choice as it promises permanent flaws.
Is it not that the social reforms are equally necessary for open economic policy to flourish? In this globalized world the values of the past are getting lost. Can we afford to lose them? An article in the Economist wonders, in that, “the blistering pace of change in recent decades has kindled an anxiety that China is suffering from moral decay and a concomitant yearning for a revival of ancient values”. Competition in order to be effective will have to fuse the new analytical precepts with the old values of faith which will strengthen one another and the holder of the fused values will be more holistic.