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It's a quiet Sunday afternoon. How about a thread on competitiveness in American culture? I want to talk about our tendency to view everything through the lens of winners and losers, and how this "sickness" can blind us to the worth of each individual – and the richness of life.

The core premise, as I see it, is that American culture has become obsessed with ranking and comparing people. We're always trying to determine who's the best, who's the worst, who's good and who's bad...

It's as if we can't appreciate anything without putting it in the context of a competition.

This mindset is so pervasive that it often goes unquestioned. We just assume this is the way things are, the way they should be. We even teach our children to think this way from a young age, to always strive to be better than their peers. But is this really healthy?

I remember seeing my niece break down in tears one day, devastated that she didn't win a spelling bee. She felt like a failure, even though she had worked hard (not to mention, placed third!). She should have been proud – but her self-worth was, at least temporarily, shattered.

The real question is, what's the point of all this ranking and comparing? What do we gain from it? It's not nothing, of course. Competition drives innovation and achievement in certain contexts. But when we apply it to everything, we suck the joy out of life for no good reason.

A reporter once asked Marlon Brando how he felt being considered one the world's greatest actors. His response:

"Everybody has their own value in a different way. I don't like to think in terms of who was the best at this."

[Video of interview clip]

Each person has unique qualities, talents, and experiences that can't be quantified or compared. When we reduce people to their "market value" or their status in some imagined hierarchy, we lose sight of their humanity.

We also lose sight of all their quirky little details that enrich our lives, too – like how they always hum while making coffee, or the awkward-and-endearing way they confront people, or their uncanny ability to find four-leaf clovers.

We essentially experience life with blinders on if we're always competing, comparing, and ranking everything we come in contact with.

So what's the alternative? I don't know. But I think it starts with becoming more aware, both individually and culturally, of when competition is the right tool for the job. We need to pause before we give into our instinct to compare or rank, and only do it when it makes sense.

We need to realize that, a lot of the time, we can actually just appreciate things and people for what they are – not just for where they rank. We need to celebrate the tapestry of human qualities and contributions, rather than trying to fit everyone into a narrow rubric.

In other words, if you eat a cinnamon roll and find yourself enjoying it less because you just remembered the one you had a month ago tasted slight better – notice how absurd that thought is. Consider how much joy it could rob you of.

This doesn't mean we should do away with competition and standards. There are plenty of places for both in domains like sports and business. The point is that it shouldn't dominate our view of human worth. We need a more balanced perspective.

I think overcoming our obsession with competitiveness is essential for building a healthier, more humane society. It's never easy to shake a deeply ingrained cultural habit. But how much richer is life when you appreciate more of it? When you see all the value that surrounds you?

So the next time you find yourself sizing people up, ranking them in your head, stop and ask yourself - what am I costing myself by doing this? There's more to each person than meets the eye. And there is definitely more to life than winning.

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