Competitive Drive or a Cooperative Spirit?

What’s more useful? When deciding how to teach, educators should mull this one over and over. Parents and guardians when deciding how to parent. Business owners when deciding how to organize their companies and motivate their employees. Lovers when negotiating the perils and pitfalls of emotional intimacy. Citizens when engaged in public life.

Of course it’s both/and, but what’s the right balance? Everyone will answer differently. The longer I live, the more I lean towards the “cooperative spirit” end of the continuum. Except for when I’m going uphill on my bicycle, way, way towards it. I’m not sure any good comes from my competitive drive. I’m convinced the more I learn to suppress my competitive instincts in favor of partnering selflessly with others, the better my life will be.

Which brings me to this wonderful Elena Ferrante excerpt from My Brilliant Friend. The setting is 1950s Italy.

     At least twice a year the principal had the classes compete against one another, in order to distinguish the most brilliant students and consequently the most competent teachers. Oliviero liked this competition. Our teacher, in permanent conflict with her colleagues, with whom she sometimes seemed near coming to blows, used Lila and me as the blazing proof as how good she was, the best teacher in the neighborhood elementary school. So she would often bring us to other classes, apart from the occasions arranged by the principal, to compete with other children, girls and boys. Usually, I was sent on reconnaissance, to test the enemy’s level of skill. In general I won, but without overdoing it, without humiliating either teachers or students. I was a pretty little girl with blond curls, happy to show off but not aggressive, and I gave an impression of delicacy that was touching. If then I was the best at reciting poems, repeating the times tables, doing division and multiplication, at rattling off the Maritime, Cottian, Graia, and Pennine Alps, the other teachers game me a pat anyway, while the students felt how hard I had worked to memorize all those facts, and didn’t hate me.

In Lila’s case it was different. Even by first grade she was beyond any possible competition. In fact, the teacher said that with a little application she would be able to take the test for second grade and, not even seven, go into third. Later the gap increased. Lila did really complicated calculations in her head, in her dictations there was not a single mistake, she spoke in dialect like the rest of us but, when necessary, came out with a bookish Italian, using words like “accustomed,” “luxuriant,” “willingly.” So that, when the teacher sent her into the field to give the moods or tenses of verbs or solve math problems, hearts grew bitter. Lila was too much for anyone.

That transports me back to Zachary Taylor elementary school in Louisville, KY where I dominated at “Around the World”, a game of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I’d weave up and down row after row leaving slower classmates in my wake. Then, at recess, I was the Russell Westbrook of kickball. At least that’s how I remember it. When it came to conjugating Spanish verbs in junior high, not so much.




Exercising Our Freedom Not to Speak

Needing sunshine and ocean views, I watched some of the Andy Williams San Diego Open at Torrey Pines Sunday afternoon. More simply, the San Diego Open. In two weeks, I’ll watch parts of the L.A. Open at Riviera.

Few people fully appreciate the slighted cousin of freedom of speech, freedom not to speak. News flash: we are not required to use the stadium or tournament labeling corporations pay tens of millions for annually. Care to join me in sabotaging the Professional Golf Association’s sponsors and other sports-affiliated corporations investments in branding?

Which brings me to another corporate brand, our Celebrity President who is dominating the news for reasons extremely concerning to anti-fascists worldwide. More important than being liked, or even respected, the Celebrity President craves attention. Good press (Fox News) is better than bad, but bad press is MUCH better than being ignored. As steady consumers of President-centric media, we fuel his mania. The dilemma, of course, is we have to pay attention, because as proven already, he has the power to wreak havoc on civil liberties, economic policy, the environment, and foreign policy, meaning life as we’ve known it.

What to do? Shine the light elsewhere, like on “How US college endowments lost big taking on more risk”? No, we need to shine the light as brightly as possible on his every move, while simultaneously applying our freedom not to speak. . . his name. I hereby propose, that everyone, from hence forward, simply refer to him in writing and in speech as the President. If all of us dissenters assiduously avoid using his last name, eventually, he’s certain to lose his mind at which point he will be declared incompetent, necessitating a return to private life where he can watch all the corporate branded professional golf he wants.*

*while no doubt bemoaning the continuing rise of international players. . . Wang, Rahm, etc.


First of many. Thanks for the questions, which in some cases are edited for brevity.

Samantha from Winnipeg: Federer or Nadal? SWilliams or VWilliams? Thoughts on the Australian more generally? Gotta love the tennis time machine. Back. From. Near. Death. I’ll be pulling for Rafa, but he has to be the underdog given the relative toughness of his semi-final match. Would LOVE to be there for that one, not just because Melbourne’s weather is a tad nicer than Oly’s right now. Same for the women, I’ll be pulling for big sis, but FiveThirtyEight probably has Serena’s chances of winning at about 90-92%. SWilliams is The Establishment. VWilliams represents change. Do upsets come in threes, Brexit, Celebrity President, VWilliams? Two others thoughts. First, if you’re a parent intent on raising a female professional tennis player, make sure your daughter is going to be at least 183cm and 68 kilos. Besides being taller and heavier than in the past, the women are ripped. Gone are the finesse days, it’s all power all the time. One thing hasn’t changed, still the sexiest sport outside of beach vball. Can I write that?

Fransisco from Stockton, CA: Most outlandish or worrisome thing Trump’s said or done so far? Actually, I have to give this week’s outlandish award to Fox New’s Lou Dobbs who said, and I kid you not, “President Trump has accomplished more in five days than President Obama did in eight years.” Fair and balanced. What were you doing watching Fox News. Looking for Megyn Kelly. Can I write that?

Priya from Hyderabad: Any movie recommendations? Last movie I saw was LaLaLand. I’m with Anzi Ansari on that one.

Other art suggestions? I highly doubt that this will be coming to Hyderabad anytime soon, but thanks to Lance calling in sick, last night the Good Wife and I went to “My Name is Rachel Corrie” in semi-sketchy, totally funky, downtown Olympia.

I recommend the one-woman, ninety minute, no intermission play. I think of it as a three-parter: 1) the spoken words taken from her diary, emails, and other writings; 2) the multimedia backdrop and minimalist staging; and 3) her actions. The writings were the first drafts of a very young woman, as a result, the many lengthy monologues didn’t move me nearly as much as the multimedia backdrop coupled with her radical selflessness. As a young woman she said she remembered one rule from her second grade teacher, a rule she thought we should apply throughout the world, “Everyone has the right to feel safe.” At age 23, she traded all her safety in for a modicum of Palestinian safety during the Second Intifada. She didn’t make it to 24. In the post play convo, one person said she died without accomplishing anything. That person is woefully unaware of the numerous, positive ripple effects of her short-lived life, starting with the Rachel Corrie Foundation.

Don from Marion, Ohio doesn’t have a question, but comments on the previous “Fact or Fiction?” post. Osnos is NOT punking you – those doomsday shelters are for real. Two millennia ago, Paul instructed the early Christians in Phillipia to”be anxious in nothing”. Similarly, Stoics pursue tranquility or inner joy of which contentment and gratitude are essential ingredients. This reporting is an incredibly convincing counter example to conventional wisdom about wealth. Most people work from the assumption that more money is more better. Is it possible to read that whole story and not conclude that when it comes to wealth, somewhere in the seven, eight, nine figures, there’s a serious point of diminishing returns? How much is enough? Excellent work by Osnos, made me ALMOST feel sorry for worried centi-millionaires and billionaires. 

Erin from Brainerd, MN. Why do people email you their mailbag questions instead of just leaving a comment? Dunno.

Future Posts

Democracy is alive and well in this corner of the interwebs.

Who would you like me to dialogue with next? What questions do you have for a possible “mailbag”? What topics would you like me to write more about.

Shape your humble blog by leaving a suggestion or question. Thanks in advance.