Our Town: American men driven to compete

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"Michael Douglas and Gary Player, two Alpha males in action"

 

Men love to compete and they do so with fervor that is startling to behold. Women are just as competitive but for reasons determined by biology and by culture, women compete more through appearance than through performance. Women spend their dollars and their free time shopping for pretty things like dresses, shoes, perfume and handbags. Men, on the other hand, spend large amounts of money, energy and free time demonstrating how brave, strong, dominating and masterful they are.

Let us explore this masculine compulsion to compete, why it is so prevalent especially in America.

If you, like me, enjoy the game of golf, you will be able to relate to the following. At the end of each season your club will organize its club championship where the players are ranked according to handicap or skill level and then must face off with each other. Mind you, these are not tour level players but rather fanatic, obsessed amateur golfers who may not possess significant natural talent.

After the flights are determined, you may be assigned to let us say the A Flight, which is for those who maybe can break 90 but not 80. To become involved in something as benign, harmless and insignificant as an A Flight club championship in golf sounds ludicrous right from the outset, but one soon realizes that this is serious business. Kind of like a war but without the use of guns or knives. On the surface it all looks merry and bright. There is smiling chit-chat on the first tee and cordial well wishes as the club pro informs you of the rules of play. However, inside each amateur golfer there is this disconcerting seething desire to win and to show them all that “I am the king of the world.

I have heard stories of middle-aged men dressed in Bermuda shorts and golf hats coming to blows over a minor disagreement on the 17th green because they could not agree as to such as who was away. Golf is an honorable game played by honorable men, but when a club championship is on the line, things tend to heat up fast and those friendly smiles turn into teeth grinding grimaces as the round proceeds.

The nature of the male need to win and show excellence based upon sporting performance holds true in cycling, tennis, running, swimming, squash and more. The large dollars spent on their amateur sporting career can be rationalized by saying they do these things for health benefits, for camaraderie and to unwind and get away from work and all that’s true. But underneath all that is another more powerful force at work which relates to the need to compete, to win and to establish one’s standing in the pack. Humans are pack animals and we all want to be a part of the pack, but these seething competitive urges imply that one wants to be the Alpha in the pack, not the Beta or God forbid the Omega.

Proof of this urge to dominate and prove one’s worth and status is seen everywhere, even in the post-game lunch conversation among men. One assumes, and correctly so that a part of the table talk will be spent deconstructing the round, but once again one notices that over the course of the hour of casual conversation, those competitive urges will again emerge and by the end of every lunch all those involved know who just dominated the discussion, who was the most interesting, the most funny and the wittiest. It seems that one cannot escape this urge to compete and show who the boss is.

One can understand how this urge to compete comes about. From an early age we are taught to compete for grades and that tests are scored on a curve. We are taught to win in sports and as children we have been asked what the final outcome was, who won and who lost.

Capitalism defines America and urges us to compete at every turn. It is no surprise that capitalism vs. socialism will be the central issue in this election. And the urge to compete and achieve status and social standing may be largest in America because in the preamble to our Constitution it states “all men are created equal.” Although this is a commendable virtue, the result is that there is no established social status at birth, so we must spend our entire life attempting to establish status by working and by winning. Or as the famous commercial said: “We make money the old-fashioned way…we earn it.”

This dynamic of equality at birth is America’s greatest secret but also our most problematic aspect. The need to establish status and worth starts at birth and does not end until we keel over at our desk at work. This gives us the drive to conquer the world and we basically have done so.

I doubt that this masculine urge to compete, to win and to establish status is going away anytime soon, whether Trump or Biden wins. And as for me, it’s back to the driving range to get myself ready for next year’s club championship. Things did not go particularly well this time around, but aren’t I the lucky one since now I have a whole year to get ready. I need a new putter, new driver, a series of playing and putting lessons, a better fitness regimen to bulk up like Bryson de Chambeau, and the most precious thing of all, time.

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