Last blog we talked about the search to do good within society, and how measuring by impact, as opposed to financial benefit, will still create polarisation and competition within society. We stated that shifting the norm from a focus on capitalistic growth to a norm that values by contribution to society will still result in exclusion and polarisation.

Jasper: ‘As long as the capitalistic and neoliberal narrative is leading, in which value is measured, it doesn’t matter what factor is the end goal, whether it is financial benefit or contributing to society. You will maintain polarisation and separation between people, since a sense of competition remains which is informed by a predominant world narrative, which is capitalism.’


However, is the sense of competition (with a polarizing effect) not beneficial, and even a necessary driving force for innovation? If the focus is always on gaining mutual benefit and co-creation, does that not diminish the potential for innovation? Is it even possible to gain expertise and innovation when your focus is always on co-creation? A sense of competition is a great motivating factor for many to push boundaries and continuously innovate. According to Wielinga and Robijn (2020), who are scientists specialized in networks, healthy competition is fun and encourages energy management. Competition stimulates us to make efforts, to bring out the best in ourselves and to develop qualities with which we can gain advantage over others. The desire to win is inherent to human nature. It is a driving force for vitality and it is an essential element in the process of variation and selection through which quality is refined.  

However, competition only fosters vitality when safe conditions are embedded. When there are no safety mechanisms in a network, then competition becomes a battle of life and death. The strongest wins and acquires a monopolizing position, enforcing discipline and uniformity. That which does not conform to their truth, is excluded (Wielinga & Robijn, 2020).

Monopolising truth

It are these monopolies on the ‘truth’ that are resulting in common behavior of the 21st century, the ‘cancel culture’. How we treat each other on- and offline is a great example of this exclusion. People that form a strong opinion or misinterpreted the context in which they say something are awaiting to be canceled. In other words, not fitting into the ideal of a group of activist believers will result in a tsunami of negative attention. As Haro Kraak (2020) a journalist from the Volkskrant states;‘Within identity politics, activists can hold each other in a headlock by constantly outdoing the other in wokeness, moral purity. Such groups develop a growing specified etiquette combined with language usage from which cannot be derived.’

Woke: ‘aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)’ (The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, n.d.) 

The growing complexity and increasing pace of change in society bring new challenges to the surface. This concerns societal challenges embedded into the roots of our existence, such as climate change and migration, that are not being tackled through a universal framework. It makes the willingness to do good for mankind a rat-race or competition towards a monopoly on what then is ‘right’, and with that, excluding other truths; polarising society by canceling those who do not fit in your image of what is ‘right’. The act of canceling and fighting for what is considered appropriate comes from the best of intentions. Nevertheless, the effect of this approach is an increase in disconnect in society because of the polarizing effect of ‘blaming’ or canceling out others: growing further apart from your fellow men instead of growing towards each other.

As Wielinga & Robijn state, it is what happens when our learning experiences overwhelm our sense of identity, our beliefs and that from which we derive our sense of certainty, then our defense mechanisms get to work to protect our inner world against distortion from the outside, which reinforces the sense of polarization of perspectives and competition. 

It is interesting how our ability to make a distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ that got the human species in their dominant position in the food chain, is now the ability that is stopping us from understanding each other and growing together. But what then does work? What makes us embrace each other? How can we create a healthy competition framework in which we strive for innovation, stimulate growth without exclusion, and tackle societal challenges?

Principles of Complementarity

The most important aspect is to compete not to defeat the other, but to grow together. There will always be a win/lose feeling connected to competition. Think of sports, games etc. However, if we want to grow as society or mankind, we have to appreciate and learn from both win and lose scenarios. Those who lose aren’t bad, merely lacking understanding. Furthermore, competition should also not be aiming towards quick solutions, but rather towards changes that are sustainable. If we want to tackle the complexity of the challenges we as a society face we should be open for long processes of change: searching for a competition framework that is based on complementarity.

 “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – an African proverb

Wielinga & Robijn state that within networks of people, specialisation and task division also develop, allowing individuals to focus on what they are good at. Mutual alignment ensures coherence within the network, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. The organizing principles of competition and complementarity keep each other in balance. Competitive systems aim to win. Complementary systems aim to develop symbiotic relationships, so that a combined whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. The great challenge of our time is to find complementary relationships on a global scale based on respect for each other and for the ecological capacity of our planet. Recognition of this is the core of eco-consciousness.” (Wielinga & Robijn, 2020).  

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. It is exactly this phrase that, in our belief, should be at the base of tackling societal challenges, in the way we educate and the way we communicate. The ‘cancel culture’ stagnates engagement and dialogue, and thus inhibits opportunities for joint dialogue to find a framework and solutions for social challenges, and how healthy competition can serve those processes. Conditions are safe if monopolies and exclusion are prevented (Wielinga & Robijn, 2020). If we want to grow as society and as inhabitants of our planet, the focus should be on fostering complementary relationships, instead of fuelling competition.