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Competition and Peace

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on September 15, 2019 04:49

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Competition is integral to our way of looking at the world, at our approach to life, and to our way of doing business. But is it useful? Our First Nations thought differently.

Countries of the Southern African Development Community synchronize the staff training at their respective military colleges so as to hold an annual peace-keeping planning exercise. The culmination is a presentation by the selected planning team of each country on a video conference. There are well-defined criteria to judge the plans drawn by each team: integration, comprehension, appreciation of the environment. Standard military planning.

African Peacekeeper in the Central African Republic. Reuters


It was clear which of the three teams at one Staff College had done the best work. Should they present on video-link? The instructors and mentors were unanimous. The Commandant differed: Why should the team that performed the worst not present?

One of his Colonels asked, shocked: “But sir, there are going to be Generals, diplomats, foreign observers present. The prestige of our college…”

The Commandant replied: “I’m not concerned with my college’s prestige; I’m concerned with the training of the students. Who is going to learn most from the presentation – the team that did the best, or the team that did the worst?”

AMISOM troops in Somalia. Peaceau.org


This echoed something a friend told me about her work as a missionary-teacher at a remote outpost in the Kalahari. The indigenous San people, direct descendants of the people who settled this region some 25,000 years ago, listened attentively at her explanation of school sports, but when trials for the 100-yard dash began, the children took hands and ran, as a group, finishing in a giggling bunch. She learnt, later, that competition was frowned upon when it could be the source of unhappiness for the loser, or hurtful pride by a winner. Far more valuable, in their opinion, was the ability to help each other, to work together to face the implacable dangers of this arid and hostile land.

Of course competition has its place in human development. But still… My grandson, four years old, started playing rugby recently. The children’s coach told us how the little ones had to be managed so each one gets a chance to score two tries in their first match. And the kids are reluctant to take the ball off someone who has it. Solidarity comes naturally for them. Competition has to be taught.

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on September 15, 2019 04:49

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