Those who study men know that they love to compete. In sports, relationships, cars, hair, jobs, clothes, accolades, books–you name it, men compete with one another to see who can become the most prestigious.
I found a great quotation on this phenomenon by a psychiatrist named Frank Pittman in his book Man Enough. Read it all, especially if you’re a guy with competitive tendencies–you’ll find that Pittman’s words nail you where you’re standing.
“The primary contest for grown men…is economic. Grown men are measured by the size of their net worth. And contending men, not content with merely making a living and having a life, want to improve their position in the pecking order by flashing a bigger checkbook. They can always try to steal money, or inherit it, or marry it, or win it, but most often they will try to make it through work. As long as they are working, they can feel themselves contending to finally, however belatedly, become a more alpha male in the pack.
Contenders like to believe their success is part of a contest against the other guys. Actually, of course, most work is an exercise in cooperation and teamwork, in which their competitiveness may serve them badly. I routinely see men who have failed at noncompetitive nurturing jobs, as teachers, coaches, or managers, because they found a competitive aspect they could run with and they let that overwhelm the job itself.
Contenders may just compete to see who can work longest or hardest, who can sacrifice the most. These guys stay up all night to best the competition, maybe to win the prize, maybe just to keep the competition from winning it. Those who really like to win can struggle with enthusiasm and optimism, and the game can be fun for them. But those who are desperate not to lose go through it with tortured anxiety, and with envy of whoever was relaxed and enthusiastic enough to win.Workaholic Contenders may well love their work, but they may not love the rest of their life. They may not feel at home at home. They may find their wives and children to be distractions. Men sometimes try to convince themselves that they work so hard and make so much money for the sake of their wife and children. They can’t admit to themselves that their work is just part of that old schoolyard competition with the other boys.” (81-2)
Christians are redeemed, but we are not perfect. I have sadly seen alot of these competitive tendencies in the circles I’ve been in as a young man. Of course, to turn this on myself, I see the drive to compete–to ministerially compete, even–in myself. How many of us work late not to advance the kingdom, but to make a reputation for ourselves? How much of our attention to our papers and assignments is due to concern for working rightly before the Lord, and how much of it is due to our concern for prestige? How many of our life decisions are motivated by the desire to hold the trump card? We’ve got to answer these questions honestly.
When we answer them honestly, we Reformed types need to not simply shoo the spiritual ramifications away with some rejoinder like, “Well, all of life is a mix of good and bad, and our motives will never be pure, so let’s just do what we do.” It is of course true that we should not paralyze ourselves over our motives, but so too should we evaluate them and take action against sin when it clearly dominates our desires. If we see that competition is the main factor behind our decisions, the main influencer of our motives, and thus a huge part of our lives, then we must repent, and turn away from such action, and chart a new course for ourselves, one that does not lead us and our families to destruction.