It Is Not A Contest

July 20, 2007

While I was getting my degree one of the courses I took was called "Small Group Communication." We studied the roles and interactions of people in small groups, which has proved invaluable in my career as a software developer and architect. One of the concepts I still remember from that class was the idea of "consciousness raising."

Consciousness raising is what occurs when people share similar experiences in order to form tighter cohesion with each other. It's the "forming" part of "Storming, Forming, Norming, and Performing." There are many positive outcomes of this type of interaction, and unfortunately, some negative ones as well.

The society here in the US can be generalized (I know generalizations are bad) in this sentence: "Winners are good, Losers are bad, and Everything is a contest." Don't believe me, watch the cars around you the next time you are on the beltway; you'll be able to pick out the one's driven by people who want to "win" at the car driving game, even though there is no way to win.

This week's finger injury brings up an example where the negative side of consciousness raising, combined with the mania to win, has a potential bad result. Returning to work with a broken finger resulted in three different stories from co-workers about how they'd managed to mangle fingers using drills, hammers and saws. I wasn't able to even tell my story in one case before other's were relating what had happened to them.

Comparing injuries is not a contest. One-ups-manship isn't a desirable social trait; it leaves the other person feeling diminished and less-than - after all, I only caught my finger in a car door, I didn't tear the nail off with a drill bit. I think it is a sad commentary on our society that we place more value on having a worse experience to "top" the other guy than we place on being able to listen with appropriate compassion for two minutes.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.