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What Built America- Competition

America loves to compete. Some would argue she is one big competition. What do we do when we aren’t competing? We rest on couches and watch others compete. Work or play, it’s in the American DNA. Red, white and competition.

The fraternity is no different. It’s the breeding ground for this philosophy. The rivalries are intense, and many fights have gone down in honor of defending those sacred letters. It is this competitive spirit of American culture within individuals that has made our country flourish. But that pride and understanding of this philosophy is eroding. We live in an age where everyone is a “winner.” Pop-psychology motivates people by having them repeat “you are special.” The politically correct thing to do is hand out trophies to everyone on the team. But just as bids are earned, recognition for achievement of any kind should be too.

The prevailing argument around the PC folks is that competition is viewed as brutal and harsh. It is viewed like a sports matchup with only one clear winner and one loser. A zero sum game. And who wins in business or life? They say those with the power and influence: greedy men, fat cat banks, and blood-sucking corporations are the ones winning. The little guy always screwed.

The voices of socialism want to put the poor against the rich, portray an image of the strong beating down the little guys, and then leverage the masses in revolution to rule the rich and bend rules to favor the weak. Take Marx and Lenin. The Bolsheviks had “the workers” taking over. In today’s terminology…letting the 99% rule. Then there is the other side. The Germans went for the strong. Nazism had a philosophy, which came from Nietzsche, that humans were genetically predisposed to be either aggressive wolves or weak sheep. It said, “Why let the weak rise up and rule?” Hitler infused it with strong nationalism, killed as many of the 99% as he could as Germany followed the misguided belief they were the elite race. The 1%.

Can you see how this doctrine of competition goes to the heart of how we live? Wars are fought and will continue to be fought over this ideology. Politics too easily turn into defending the weak or the strong. But if you go down those roads on how to view competition, it can be a trap, and in my opinion, not very American. We didn’t get here by Soviet or German doctrine. We need to protect competition and individual achievement in our economy. It is under attack. It is what built America and opens the door for freedom and humans to flourish. We need to be re-educated on how competition is good for all. And all can enter.

Competition thrives when people believe they can enter and play their hand and are being guided by their personal ambitions. In free societies and markets, it allows for all to enter…all to compete. You can run for office, rise up in the big leagues, build a business, you name it. But competition does require something. You have to compete. This means you have to be the man fighting in the arena. You can’t wait around. You can’t expect something for free. You have to step out and take a risk. You have to earn it.

The critique right now in America is that competition is dog-eat-dog and only has one clear winner and loser. It needs protection, regulation, watch-dogs. One person’s wealth comes at the expense of the rest. All this talk gets people scared and think they can’t compete, so they don’t. They find easier methods. Are there greedy guys you can blame? Sure. Do you win every time? No. But competition is a learning process, with training and time. You win by being tested, and often losing a few battles to get there. Those lessons of struggle and failure in business, like in life, are the best teachers.

Competition forces you into understanding people’s needs. Offering a service or a product that is unique or better quality or greater value. That is what makes the market efficient and raises the bar and lowers prices. If you make bad products, you shouldn’t be rewarded for it.

One of the most important lessons in markets is that the pie does not shrink or have less for the next guy just because one guy is doing well. Markets are dynamic. They can grow bigger…together. Let me explain by way of fraternity rush. Are there some clear winners after rush? Absolutely. But the fact that everyone is competing means that everyone is actually raising their game. The entire system is raised up. This is the same with free markets. It creates new drugs, improves technologies, brings efficiencies, vets better candidates, and invents far greater products. Innovation, creativity, and new development thrive with competition.

As markets grow or change, and as competition is allowed freedom, the pie actually gets bigger. Not for just one or two, but for all. This is how America grew into such a powerful economic engine. Folks were out there jumping in the game. They weren’t talking about others paying their fair share, or eating the remnants of another’s pie. They were building bigger factories and more efficient systems to make more of them! And who ate all those pies? We all did. Making a demand for even more of them.

Going back to our fraternity analogy. Let’s say they took out competition in fraternities. The PC folks felt it wasn’t fair to pick pledges based on personality and leave others out. Pledges were assigned by the University to fraternities based on what they decided was “fair.” In effect, rush was no longer required. Who would be motivated to make their fraternity great? Fraternity rivalries wouldn’t exist, because there would be no nostalgia created at the beginning. Morale would plummet. You might even argue that they would no longer exist. The whole system would collapse.

But the rivalry must live on. That intense amount of energy and competition put into walking the campus with pride must prevail. I spent two summers as rush chairman giving everything I had. The competition and the hopes of beating Kappa Sig and SAE fed me. The late night bantering and strategizing on how to pull it all off. Fighting for the best pledges. How did we do? We won a national award that year. But my guess is SAE and Kappa Sig did just fine as well. And what did that experience do for me and the rest of my fraternity? It made us better men, trained us to go on and do that in areas of government, business, and organizations when we graduated.

So who wins with competition? The weak or the strong? Well, I’d like to think we all do. And so I say game on. Keep the inter-fraternity rivalry and the banter, and give bids to the pledges that you think deserve it. Do it honorably, play fairly, and compete. The world needs to see us flourish again. And that will come when we understand the principals of what made us great.

By guest columnist Xan Hood, CEO/Founder of Buffalo & Company / Buffalo Jackson

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