This week we read and discuss Brian Timar’s excellent blog post entitled “Mimetic Traps”. We try and figure out when competitiveness is unproblematic and how we can avoid inheriting desires from other people.
Here are some of the highlights from our discussion:
Humans inherit convictions mimetically from each other. We learn what to value by imitating our peers. Once we are surrounded by people or students engaged in the same activities or subjects competing for grades, we can think of little else. This leads to a form of tunnel vision which can be destructive and create a form of dependency.
There are plenty of things that you can do for the wrong reasons but it’s still probably worth doing them. For example, very few teenagers have unproblematic reasons for wanting to do well academically and get into university. It’s mostly just tying your self-worth to academics or social status. Very few teenagers are enlightened about things like the mimetic trap. But you could do worse things than work hard in school to get into a good university which is what makes it tricky because it does encourage a bad mindset towards life.
The focus on competition and coming top of the year is always problematic. By defining ourselves by what we can achieve in comparison to others, we are being driven solely by external factors, some of which are outside our control. But this focus on competition can come to define our self-worth and it is only if you can detach your self-worth from competition that this drive to come top of the year is not problematic. However, this level of detachment is difficult.
There is both good competition and bad competition. Bad competition is characterised by not enjoying the process, defining your self-worth entirely by the result and when the competition is abstract and the rules of the competition aren’t well-defined. Good competition involves enjoying the process, consciously avoiding the position where you are defining yourself in respect of others and competing with a clear goal.
It’s important to have a north star vision for what you want but recognise that this will probably change every year. We should accept that we can change our minds – as long as our purpose and orientation are geared towards enjoyment then we cannot go too far wrong.
The question of who you serve can be revealing. Many of us live our lives serving ourselves which can be an actively unproductive approach to take and can create a vacuum of wider meaning.
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