The Spirit Of Competition

It’s one of those things that’s talked about and often not talked about in the scene. I’m going to talk about it in as unvarnished a way as I can.

No matter the desire of some for the maximum in comity among scene participants, there is, in reality, little hand-holding nor song-singing. The scene is a great place to play but like any garden, can be full of hazards as well. One of the major ones is the competitiveness among people. I don’t discriminate by pointing to any one group because it is prevalent among Tops as well as bottoms — just not in the same way.

This discussion came up yesterday between me and a couple of my scene friends. My contention is that not only is competition something that is always present but is also one of those topics in scene life that is either glossed over or just not spoken about. A good many folks like to see the scene as one big disfunctional family but even within families there is a great deal of competition. My late-brother always thought of me as being smarter than he was so he worked hard to be more successful and achieved it. We didn’t compete in any specific or direct way but it was always just under the surface. I see this sort of beneath-the-surface sort of competion all the time in the scene even if other people do not. Maybe my perceptions are tuned differently than the perceptions of others — maybe my cynicism is responsible for that tuning — but I’m always aware that there is this constant grind between people figuratively shouldering each other aside for attention.

It may be an unpleasant reality but humans, by their very nature, struggle. It is not in the nature of homo sapiens to want to come in second especially among a peer group. Obviously, a doctor and a sculptor are not competing on the same field but within their respective groups there is probably quite a bit of gamesmanship. In the scene, Tops compete for various reasons. Some want to be Toppy Top, others want to have the most play partners and others still want to simply be popular. This is the way it is. Bottoms want to obviously be seen as desireable to play with or the most fun or, again, simply as popular. Some might think it is a leftover from our school years but it is a part and parcel of human nature. It honestly takes a great deal of willpower not to engage in this activity (think of the mental training a Buddhist undergoes to rid himself of these feelings).

I don’t reveal every ugly detail about myself but I do admit to feeling this competitiveness and comes naturally to me. It is not something that I’m proud of at all but I acknowledge that it is there. My competiveness is not something I engage in overtly — I am more often than not “backing off” in situations because I believe a strategic retreat is the better course of action. However, I cannot state that I don’t compete on some level but mostly by being whatever it is I am but as much of that person as I can be at any given time. I know that makes little sense but it’s a difficult concept for me to put into words. Think of it as an attempt to consciously enhance your better qualities and put them on display. One might say that is what social people are doing all the time but the scene is merely a microcosm of the world so it applies.

I realize that admitting this stuff either exposes me or makes people go, “Duh”. I just state it openly because of the fact that I notice how much it isn’t talked about. Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a healthy level of competition as long as it doesn’t get to the point where people are cutting each other to pieces. I equally don’t think it’s very healthy to see the world or a small part of it as some kind of paradise without realizing that there are other, perhaps unpleasant, aspects as well.


12 Responses to “The Spirit Of Competition”

  1. I don’t disagree that it is some basic human nature to be competitive. It is. When I go to these parties I try to be presentable. I don’t think I go with an air of gamesmanship, however. Honestly, I don’t even try hard to play or to meet people, rather, I usually kick back and see what happens. Perhaps one might see that as strategy, but its just my nature. I really enjoy the fact that you are so introspective and willing to write as you feel. It is what makes this blog worth reading. This is not directed at you when I say that I find competitiveness in the scene off putting. I look at it less as a competition and more as a search for compatibility. The clique, high school nature of some of the bigger parties is particularly souring to me. I have never sought to be popular. Personally, I take each individual on their own merit or lack there of, and not based on what crowd they run in. That is not to say that I am uncompetitive. I have fought in jiu jitsu tournaments, and I do strive to be the best I can be at what I do, but I try not to measure myself by who I can put aside. Believe me, I do not find the scene to be some paradise in anyway, and I do not deny this element of competition, I just choose not to play that game. It may mean I will play less, but I don’t care.

    • radagast Says:

      I understand what you’re saying and I appreciate it fully.

      The only thing I can ever strive to be is myself and that means recognizing what I am inside and out. That doesn’t mean I have to like everything I see but it does mean I have to acknowledge that it’s there. One of those things is the desire to be liked by others. It probably comes from feelings of abandonment when I was a kid because my mother went off to work not long after I was born and kept it up throughout my childhood. One clear memory I have is of being four years old and knocking a window with my fist until it broke because I wanted my mother to turn around and wave goodbye one more time as she left for work. Later on, I had intense desires and needs to be liked when I went to high school and college — these feelings never went away although I learned to deal with them better.

      If I am liked, it’s because I just am. I don’t have an explanation for it nor an understanding of why that is. Certainly, I try very hard to be cordial and nice to people, I genuinely care about people, especially my friends, and do my best to treat them properly as well as reach out to new folks I meet. However, the nearly pathological need inside me to be liked never goes away. Much of the competitiveness I feel in the scene or in the world at large comes from the fear, I think, of being abandoned yet one more time.

      Sorry to get so psychological about it. I do let it all hang out sometimes.

      • The best we can do is to be ourselves fully. It sounds so simple, yet it’s really not so easy. Cliques are notoriously competitive, but if you get any member of a clique on their own, it’s more than likely you’ll find an insecure person who just wants to be liked and is grateful for the protection of the clique. That being said, there’s all kinds of other subtle kinds of competition as you noted expertly above.

        In large social groups I am often left with the feeling that “I can’t compete” with others who are more popular or more well known, or whatever. Then I look at myself and at that statement, and I realize that the feeling of not being able to compete directly implies that there IS a competition where there really shouldn’t be one because if we were all presenting ourselves honestly maybe there would be no problem. I don’t know. What I do know is that while I have the desire to go to the parties and play and enjoy myself even if I don’t play, I often find myself slightly soured by the experience like Chris said above. Social anxiety overrides enjoyment, and the people that I want to spend time with are otherwise occupied. Certainly I’d like to be seen as a desirable person both socially and physically, but mostly I feel invisible.

  2. radagast Says:

    @Dana: I don’t pretend to be anything other than myself ever. I may massage my personality from time to time in various situations but that’s about it. The thing about competition in the scene is this — it can only exist if there is, in fact, a competition. If one day I go to a party and am completely ignored in favor of ten other people, then there is zero competition — I have lost. Now, the chances of that happening to people who have done nothing to ostracize others if probably zero but there is a possibility of falling out of favor for no apparent reason. Age, perhaps, being one of them.

  3. I know that you don’t pretend to be anyone other than thyself. That’s just one of the reasons I like you 🙂

    I hope that you were not implying that I am too old… after all, I feel like I just turned 21! Anyway, I hope I haven’t done anything to ostracize myself or anyone else. Feeling invisible is a lifelong problem of mine — my mother was an extreme extrovert and a bit of an exhibitionist — need I say more.

  4. I agree that there is competition within the scene and that it is part of human nature. I don’t see seeking acceptance as a form of competition, though, as I can’t see that it’s a limited resource. Sure, not everyone can be the Belle of the Ball or the Most Studly Top of All, but most of us can find a place within the scene to feel liked and accepted. The uglier aspects of competition arise when people are not satisfied with acceptance and need to be adored or admired.

    As for the issue of cliques, that’s never bothered me much. One of the things I like about the Scene is that I meet people of different ages, with different occupations and interests. So it seems natural to me that there will be circles of friends who have more in common with one another than with members of the community at large. It also seems natural to me that some people are more gregarious and more willing to go beyond the limits of their natural groups than others. Or that one person is more willing to do so at one time than at another.

    For myself, I’ve had a very rough few months as the result of vanilla issues. I just haven’t had the energy to be social that I normally have. So I haven’t reached out as much at parties, preferring to interact with friends who know what’s going on. I suppose that could look to an outsider as cliquishness, but it’s really about friendship.

    • radagast Says:

      I think what’s often seen as clique-ish behavior is really just a group of people who know each other a long time and a person on the outside who is skittish about approaching them. A true clique is a group that is closed — unwilling to accept new members without some sort of hazing or initiation process.

  5. I’m going to go with “duh.” Like you said, it’s something that is obvious, but rarely discussed out in the open. I’ve tried to have honest discussions about competition, at times, with certain people whom I trusted. Trying to discuss this on a blog is difficult, because one can’t go into specifics without opening Pandora’s Box. So, we are left to speaking about competition in the abstract.

    • radagast Says:

      That is the conundrum — trying to discuss a topic involving people while attempting not to step on any specific toes.

      I’m all for a free and unfettered exchange of ideas but by my own necessity would reserve that for for private communications. If you’d like to discuss this via e-mail, I’m willing to oblige.

      • There are a couple things I can say without fear of stepping on toes.

        A certain amount of competition is natural and inevitable. You just have to deal with it. At my first Shadowlane party, I got kind of shell-shocked on Saturday night when all of a sudden there was this frenzy of people hooking up to play. It went from an easygoing, take it slow, kind of vibe, to holy crap! I had better make a date or I am going to be spending the whole night frozen out of the fun. I saw how some guys would use their status to swoop in and pick the cherries and didn’t seem to give a fuck about whose toes they stepped on. It was eye-opening. Anyway, after that I felt a bit sorry for myself and wanted to try to change things somehow. But, after a while I realized that just’s life. If I were a well-known vet with toppy status, i would probably do the same thing too. After all, some people have paid their dues and while it looks on the outside like people are being unfairly exclusive, there’s also an element of people who are simply exercising long-standing relationships, which are naturally exclusive to newbies.

        So, life isn’t fair. You gotta pay your dues and learn to deal with competition.

  6. swfloridabrat Says:

    Rad, again, you intrique me with your perceptions. I have often been called the bus driver in my group, because I naturally tend to want to include “everyone” if they want to be included…but it is not because I want to be popular, but rather I know how lonely it can be to be excluded. I agree that people are competitive by nature-and know that I ham it up if people are watching (!) but…I don’t think that is a negative aspect to the scene-just a fact of life…
    Gen. Sassiness

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