Monday, April 4, 2011

Thinking about Strangler Trees

Yesterday, my tutee and I read a SAT piece about strangler trees, these interesting floral curiousities that grow on big, tall trees in the tropical rainforest by seeding high up in the crevices of those trees. They begin as epiphytes, with roots extending towards the ground and towards the sun, but not feeding off their host. When their roots reach the ground and take root in the soil, they start growing rapidly and eventually cover up the hosts' roots. They also wind around the trunk of the host, eventually squeezing it to death (hence the name strangler trees). I picture a sort of king kong like scenario, navy SEALs parachuting down on many lines to bind King Kong and subdue the mighty giant.

That is neither here nor there, but just one of those interesting facts - gobbets - that've been going through my mind lately.

I've become more and more aware (not quite in a linear fashion but more like in spurts, with stagnant periods and frequent regressions) how competition has a negative effect on me. Perhaps that's why economics makes so much sense to me, its first principles are grounded on competition for scarce resources. And while the optimal outcome is an increase in productive capacity to create a win-win situation, the default mode is actually fierce competition for market dominance.

With that kind of mindset, it's hard to override the mental belief that any gain for someone who may be even remotely considered my competition is a loss for me. A natural competitive urge that people have to be the best - that urge that manifests such ugly behavior as jealousy, envy and manipulation - justified and naturalized in the name of competitive efficiency which produces the social good, creates a very twisted mindset. One loses sight of the true goal.

I try hard to be happy for other's accomplishments, and for the most part I can be. I recognize that it does contribute to the greater good, and that their gain does not diminish my status. I just wonder what it will take to change these feelings, to go against a world system where one's gain is another's loss.

I think I have always tried to create and participate in non-zero sum systems, like promoting education, knowledge, community etc. But I keep encountering the hard fact that no matter what you try to do, there is always going to be a mindset and model of competition; whether through profits or through recognition.

So to sum up there are two questions on my mind right now: How do I reconstruct my mental/emotional/physical reality so that I can push myself to work harder and improve, without the negative reinforcement of competition? And a more personal question: How serious am I about this?