Is there a thin line?
Most of the classical dictionaries use them as synonyms, but do they truly point to the same piece of cake? We all live in a competitive scenario, but then are we all rivals? The Webster dictionary puts competition, conflict, emulation, strife, striving, tug-of-war, and warfare as all synonyms for rivalry. Both symbolize the same: a contest among opponents for a coveted prize or honor. Yet close as they are in literal meaning, the words rivalry and competition separately imply certain attitudes and actions so different as to seriously affect all who compete for the same position of honor.
Rivalry is a groundswell word, suggesting turbulence by its very sound. It is used much more often than its synonym, competition, to indicate brash actions, overriding ambition and uncontrolled emotions. In our childhood days we used to read of the western pistol-and-rapier duels of olden days. There we read about clashes between "rivals," not "competitors"! In today's business or social events, the real rivalry is of course between persons not humans. And the standard weaponry usually consists of egotism, arrogance, deception, gossip and envy. No holds are barred, and the fair, honest ethic of "life" is ignored by the opponent whose motto is "All's fair in love and war".
Another identifying quality of rivalry is obsession. "Me," "I," "My job," "My salary," and "My life" are terms echoed endlessly in conversations among rivals. In fact, a classic rival should be able to separate his or her own id, ego and superego from his social identity. A show-ring defeat is perceived, literally, as a personal rejection, because he finds it totally incomprehensible that the judge has "denied" him the purple-and-gold ribbon or the tricolor rosette.
Competition can be every bit as intense, arduous, stressful and aggressive as rivalry. But unlike the latter, which is bristling with negativity, competition is positive. Even as two major opponents strut for the ribbons, the true sport ethic somehow prevails, and mutual respect survives the victory of one and the defeat of the other. Competition, not rivalry, allows us to view our opponents clearly, often enabling us to learn more from losing than winning. This is because the true competitor, or contender, does not feel compelled to deny the soundness, balance, attitude or beauty of every action in the ring except his own.
In our daily lives, it is interesting that some of the fiercest and most formidable competitors have in time forged lasting friendships. These seemingly odd couplings can happen because competitors, unlike rivals, are free to grow in the knowledge that beyond last week's defeat or next week's victory lies the prize of far greater importance -- that of producing better achievement and, even, of becoming a better person.
Leave aside the professional scenario, competition is even in our family. Intense competition exists among siblings for recognition and the attention of their parents. Sibling rivalry normally begins when a baby is introduced to a family and the older sibling fears the baby will replace him or her. The older child may become extremely jealous and display aggressive behavior toward the baby or such regressive acts as bed-wetting or baby talk. This regressive behavior is considered the older child's way to try and reestablish himself in a dependent role with his parents. As the children grow, sibling rivalry can lead to extremely competitive or aggressive behavior, which may become generalized to other life experiences (e.g., career). Sibling rivalry is by no means universal or inevitable, but seems to depend in part upon how parents balance the sometimes-competing needs of offspring.
In sports and in some spheres of creative arts, it is interesting that some of the fiercest and most formidable competitors have in time forged lasting friendships. These seemingly odd couplings can happen because competitors, unlike rivals, are free to grow in the knowledge that beyond last week's defeat or next week's victory lies the prize of far greater importance - that of producing better players and, even, of becoming a better human beings.