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Competition & Christianity, Part 5 of 6

by Jeff Gunther

in Character,Leadership

This series was originally published as an article in Vocatio, Vol. 8, No. 1, FALL 2005. Vocatio: A publication of the Marketplace Theology concentration at Regent College, offering reflection on the ministry of the whole people of God in the workplace.

Competition, Cooperation and Community

Cooperation is the basis for competition. Laura Nash describes the concept applied to competition as coming from a genuine evangelical impulse for benevolence. The terms of competition may be rearranged to take into account the interests of others. The unconditional nature of this thinking reflects elements of Christian love and a worldview based on relational thinking rather than merely legalistic measures. You don’t give up ‘loving your neighbor’ just because it might cost you something.1 Nash’s Covenantal Business Ethic,2 while helpful, is somewhat naïve. Any competition based on long-term vision already operates this way – Christian or otherwise.

To compete used to mean to ‘beat.’ Today, it means continuous interaction with a spectrum of individuals and organizations… Sharing to win and sharing the win have become the hallmarks of the new competitiveness. This requires undoing the behaviors focused on exclusive advantage and adopting those of partnership and collaboration.3

“The need to be more ‘competitive’ is more often than not better cast as the need to be more cooperative.”4

While in the competitive field of real estate sales, I often met with top producers in my area. When Larry Hahn5 shared his ‘secrets’ with me, I was grateful and astounded and asked why he had been so generous: “First, we are not only competitors, but cooperators in listings and sales. Second, anything I share that improves the image of our profession benefits us all. And third,” he added with a smile, “by the time you learn to do what I’m doing as well as I do, I’ll be doing something else.”

Cooperation is integral to competition, and both are linked to community. A survey of the ‘one-another’ commands of the Bible demonstrates just how highly God holds us to community. Mutual belonging takes precedence over individual desires; cooperation is the basis of competition and not the struggle for survival.6 Competition is one of many relationships we have with other members of the community. Corruption of competition damages the sense of community and the underlying cooperation necessary for any successful business activity.

However competitive a particular industry may be, it always rests on a foundation of shared interests and mutually agreed-upon rules of conduct, and the competition takes place not in a jungle but in a society that it presumably both serves and depends upon. Business life, unlike life in the mythological jungle, is first of all fundamentally cooperative.7

“Mutual trust and respect work because they maintain social cohesion.”8

Competition, defined by cooperation, is good because it nourishes community. Cooperation is an essential and pleasurable part of being human. Competition validates a theme of excellence in the Bible,9 and for enduring success, requires integrity: “competing for consumer confidence is more important than sales profits.”10 Competition lowers price and raises quality. And competition promotes human flourishing: “It is unlikely that individuals could ever discover their own potential unless they are blessed with good friends and rivals, whose exploits teach them how to push themselves harder than they yet have.”11

1 Laura L. Nash, Believers in Business (Vancouver: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994), 89-94. See also Luke 6:31 and Luke 10:27.
2 Laura L. Nash Good Intentions Aside: A Managers Guide to Resolving Ethical Problems (Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press, 1993), 20. The Covenantal Business Ethic subordinates self-interest to other motivations, prominently value-creation and service to others, approaching business in terms of relationships.
3 John Dalla Costa, Working Wisdom: The Ultimate Value in the New Economy (Toronto: Stoddart, 1995), 267.
4 Robert C. Solomon, Ethics and Excellence: Cooperation and Integrity in Business (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 8-9.
5 Larry Hahn is a realtor with Re/max Real Estate in Edmonton, Alberta, who was earning well over $500,000 at the time of our interview, in the midst of the recessionary mid-eighties.
6 Solomon and Hanson, Above the Bottom Line, 399.
7 Solomon, Ethics and Excellence, 26.
8 Bateson, “Co-operation,” 7.
9 See Colossians 3:23.
10 Peter Quek, “Competition,” in The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity, Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 193.
11 Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, 347.

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