Saturday, 24 March 2012

How to be Free - Stop Competing

I’ve mentioned Tom Hodgkinson on here before.  He’s the editor of The Idler, and has written books “How to Be Idle”, “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent”.  I love the principles expressed in “How to be Free” (though not all the ideas in the book), and while I don’t agree with the term Idle I think The Idle Parent is a must-read and describes well how I was brought up and how I wish to bring up my own children.

I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring these two books, and the ideas contained in them further, in the hope that this will help me to explore further the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

How to be Free

Chapter 8 - Stop Competing - START A GUILD

Is competition healthy?  Since Darwin, with the concept of Survival of the Fittest, life seems to be about competing with the Joneses.  But surely the net result of unfettered competition is that one company / species comes out on top, having destroyed or swallowed up all their competitors.  Is this one the best, or just the best at competing?  Doesn’t competition kill variety?

Tom suggests that competition in the realm of play is a good thing, leading to fun and games; competition in business and ethics is bad.   It leads to poor wages, poor quality, poor treatment of staff – all in the name of “beating” the other guys.  “You’ve got to be tough to survive” – is life really all down to survival?  What happened to savouring life, living joyfully, and loving?

There are situations in both other cultures, and in nature, of mutual aid – symbiotic relationships rather than parasitism.  Hospitality for the sake of hospitality.  Giving freely to the poor and needy.  At one stage in European history, the principle aim of most people wasn’t how to make lots of money, but how to save their soul, and working was often seen as just another vanity.  Guilds were set up with a complex system of values to allow work that wouldn’t displease God.  The aims were to work creatively, not do too much work, agree prices without competition, look after fellow craftsmen, including apprentices and those who can’t work any more, high quality.  Members of the guilds paid a membership which went to look after tradesmen who couldn’t work any more, widows and their families and great halls and feasts.  This has been tried again in various guises over the centuries, with people living in various co-operative communes.  The key here is in neighbourliness.

How does this match up to the Ink Spots and Grass Stains life?

I like this idea.  Anybody who knows me will know that I am competitive, but I hope that they would agree that I am more competitive with myself than with anybody else – which I don’t think is a bad thing.  I’m certainly not one for keeping up with the Joneses, though I admit, I sometimes get a little smug when I compare my children with others – is that “competitive mum syndrome”?  I love variety.

I am also very much in favour of what Tom describes as “mutual aid” helping other people just because it’s a good thing to do, not because there’s anything in it for ourselves.  This does require us to break down some barriers, both for ourselves and with our neighbours, and ask for and offer help more freely – it’s something that in our culture we have got out of the habit of.

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