The chaos of constant toxic competition must end

Wokeness. Victimhood. Morality. These are not the problems until we make them the problem. The problem in this era where connection is often defined by massive multi-player games and social media is the addiction to one upmanship.

Literary theorist Kenneth Burke defined humankind this way:

“Man is the symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal, inventor of the negative (or moralized by the negative), separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making, goaded by the spirit of hierarchy (or moved by the sense of order), and rotten with perfection.”

Human existence is defined by competition, and the basis of all knowledge lies in comparisons and the generalizations we draw from them. But both competition and comparison have turned rancid. People in our society have replaced cheering for their side with calling for the deaths of those on the opposition. Seeking common ground has been replaced with seeking to define ourselves by that which we hate. Maybe this was always to be the natural trajectory, but if such behavior continues, it will end much the same way Rod Serling depicted future events in A Carol For Another Christmas (1964).

In the “Imperial Me” scene of this film, Peter Sellers’ character declares that after his group of “individual mes” has killed the interlopers, they can then proceed to killing each other until only one “individual me” is left. That is the end game of toxic competition.

The point is, if we look for differences, we will always find them. Conflict is ever present. When I used to teach a course in interpersonal communication, I would tell students that conflict itself is neither good nor bad; it is how we handle it. The ideal way to handle conflict is through collaboration, a situation that is win/win. Those opportunities aren’t always available, so then we should seek to compromise, a conflict resolution strategy where each side wins and loses something.

In the aftermath of the recent trial in Kenosha, a message was sent, whether intended or not, that it is okay to take the lives of people you disagree with. A man who killed two other men and caused another to be injured, instead of being punished is being rewarded with job offers and being given hero status by men who resemble the Peter Sellers character from the film. Men who gained power through their message of “owning the Libs,” but have now altered that message to “kill the Libs.”

Honestly, there are times when I feel like I should self-censure and retreat into a reclusive existence for the sake of self-preservation. Maybe that is what the “kill the Libs” crowd wants. I refuse to do so, not to spite them, but to appeal to the common decency that I believe still exists in most people.

We should take this time of year, a time when people connect with one another, and make a resolution for civility.

We are still living through a pandemic, and it is not merely a pandemic of the unvaccinated as some folks are calling it. I thought that once, but after seeing a record number of cases in Wood County, where I live, and having seen vaccinated people hospitalized, albeit in lower numbers than unvaccinated, I can say with some certainty that masks offer more protection than vaccines. I am not saying that vaccines aren’t effective, but being vaccinated alone is not keeping people safe.

I look at Portage County, which has vaccination rates that are nearly identical to what we have in Wood County. They have far fewer cases of COVID. The difference there is that more people are wearing masks in public settings. When you go into a store in Wisconsin Rapids or Marshfield, very few people are wearing masks.

If people would have only united, and I mean for more than two weeks, to follow safety protocols, we might be over this pandemic. When we unite, we can achieve tremendous things.

I have a question for those who turn school board meetings into battlegrounds: How good does it feel to hate your fellow man? I don’t expect an honest answer, but be honest with yourself. I bet you don’t feel good at all. When was the last time you have felt at peace? Have you ever felt at peace? If not, I feel sorry for you.

At this time of year, we say things like, “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” Instead of just saying it, why not try to live it? The alternative leads to a very lonely place. If you thought the isolation of lockdown in the early days of COVID was bad, just you wait… or don’t.

Let’s make a return to friendly competition. Let’s strive to address conflict with collaboration and compromise. Let’s seek to find common ground. Let’s do it now before it is too late.