The Other I

September 24, 2014

Mine’s better than yours

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:22 pm
Tags: ,

Earlier this week, a neighbour knocked on our door and asked me to submit something from our garden to the village horticultural competition being held next Saturday.

I gagged.  Almost literally.  The thought of entering a competition using the fruit and vegetables we are growing repelled me with an intensity that surprised me.  The thought of actually winning the competition is even more appalling.

I offered to give him something if he would submit it in his name and keep me out of it, but he said he couldn’t do that.  I offered to donate something to the horticulture committee outside the competition if the produce was going ultimately to a charity or soup kitchen.  He was unimpressed.

So I’ve been analyzing my response.

First of all, I’m not against all competition.  But I do know that generally women do better in cooperative situations while men will often thrive in competition.  This has always been true for me.  I freeze in the face of competition, but love working together.

In our capitalist societies, there is a place for competition:  There is a place to try to make a better, more efficient, or cheaper product.  There is a place for competition to solve all kinds of problems, whether it be to find a cure for cancer, less-polluting energy sources, or more and better ways to feed the hungry.

Just as importantly, we can benefit from knowing how our gifts compare with those of our peers if we want to make a contribution, and in that sense, competition can be a source of valuable self-insight.  When I was teaching courses in educational psychology, I often required my students to generate their own grades, assessing how well they thought they did in the course relative to their own gifts.  In other words, to assess whether they thought that they had done their A-level best, or not, and why.  This was the grade in which they evaluated themselves.  I also gave them a grade, which reflected an individual’s achievement as I saw it relative to everybody else in the class.

I think both of these assessments are valuable for different reasons and in different ways.  The first is rooted in oneself.  It teaches us to make our own judgements, to take responsibility for our own actions, and makes us less dependent on others’ approval.  The second gives us some idea of how our particular gifts compare with others.  The thing that is often not realized is that we need to know which of our gifts may be outstanding every bit as much as we need to know which of our talents may be pretty mediocre.  It’s not a question of hubris on the one hand, or lack of self-confidence on the other.  We all have gifts and we all are incomplete.  We need to know that.

Okay, what does this have to do with our village fruit and vegetable competition?

Well, I don’t grow vegetables to impress other people.  I grow them to eat.  And sometimes to share.  But not to do a one-upmanship.  Not to gain status.  Not to be better than somebody else.  The whole idea seems so ghastly, to rob the entire experience of growing things of it intense intrinsic reward.

Anyway, I don’t think the neighbour understood.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain it or not.  If I try, I will make sure his wife is there too.  I think she might understand.  She’s a woman, after all.



  1. Is this village competition a British thing? I was in England only once (a very long time ago), but I remember people were out polishing their mailboxes because there was some kind of tidiness contest going on, or maybe it was about winning some “most beautiful village” competition. I just remember that people seemed to be taking it very seriously! And the village was, no doubt, beautiful (at least in the sense of being very well tended)–but the social pressure factor struck me as a little bit creepy. In other words, I wonder if there’s a kind of Stepford conformity subtext to the garden “competition” that rankles you (as it would me!). The fact that this guy came to your DOOR with this suggestion, and was so dull-witted and persistent when you didn’t immediately join up, might be a clue. 🙂


    Comment by Barbara Sullivan — September 27, 2014 @ 11:50 am | Reply

    • That’s such a obvious question — are these competitions a British thing? But much as I think about this culture and how it is different from America, it never occurred to me before that these competitions are typically British. I’ve never lived in a village before – either in the U.S. or here. But I think you are right. There are all sorts of competitions going on all the time — the best Halloween costume, the best pumpkin, the best scare crow, the best cake, the best village, the best garden. It’s like gambling: the British will place a bet on almost anything, just like they will turn almost anything into a competition – mostly light-hearted, but serious nonetheless.

      Interesting in that we think of America as being competitive. But this seems a little different. I wonder if it’s in any way related to the class system? social mobility is actually greater here in Britain today than in the States. And we Americans obviously have huge differences in status in our society. But it manifests itself differently. I remember watching Nelson Rockefeller dancing with the Queen when she was visiting the States many years ago, and he was completely at ease, whereas President Ford was obviously nervous. And then Rockefeller turns around and greets one of the waiters saying “Hi ya, fella; how you doing?”

      Fascinating, no?

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I’ve lived here 15 years, and you still taught me something!

      On Sat, Sep 27, 2014 at 12:50 PM, The Other I wrote:



      Comment by Terry Sissons — September 27, 2014 @ 8:06 pm | Reply

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