A New Standard of Leadership

2016 April 20
by Dr. Zachary White

In almost all aspects of daily life, competition is valued as a goal unto itself. Doing well, succeeding, and making a difference are almost always evaluated through the formula of competition—my win is your loss, your victory is at my expense, I am the best (because I beat you). Viewing life as a competition is the norm . . . except when it comes to the life-altering context of caregiving.

Too many people overlook the value of the caregiver role because care goes against every sacred value of competition. The obsession with competition has crowded out the private and public values of care so much so that it’s time we begin rethinking the qualities we believe worthy of admiration because . . .

Competition closes you off to others. Competition reduces dynamic, complex people to mere competitors. Competition shrinks the world around you when dealing with others, reducing our attention to others’ perceived threats. Everything else becomes unimportant but for the fact that you will be competing against the other for a seemingly scarce resource—a prize, a promotion, a race. Care, on the other hand, opens you up to others allowing us to see how the person we care for is connected to our past and present. Care allows us to see others not as threats, but as allies. Care invites us to view others as whole people, with a multitude of life experiences and perspectives that don’t ask to be changed or converted—just appreciated.

Competition prevents meaningful collaboration. How can you collaborate with someone when you are so busy trying to exploit their weaknesses? Competition doesn’t want you to know your competitor’s name or story or individuality. In the midst of competition, you are either with me or against me—transforming the person nearest to you into an object, a thing, a source of difference—a threat that is only understood as an other. Care, on the other hand, opens us up to our shared humanity. Caregivers work from the belief that we are all alike—our fragility is the gravitational pull that blurs differences in ideology and belief into the background amidst the overwhelming presence of genuine care. Care invites us into knowing that our frailty is both reason and justification unto itself, a bridge to the other, rather than a reason to retreat.

Competition reduces relationships to winners or losers—leaving nothing else in between. Competition is about the end results, period. Everything is measured and evaluated through the very empty metric of win or loss, tainting all other aspects of the relationship. Care, on the other hand, is all about process. Care has everything to do with what happens between beginnings and endings. For caregivers, the ephemeral present is supreme, as what exists in the moment is often lost in translation when explained or justified in the language of “results.”

Competition is showy. “Look what I did.” “See how I’m better than the rest.” Standing above others, the competitor thrives in the glory of the limelight, eventually allowing the private self to be suffocated by public adoration. Care, on the other hand, is anonymous. It thrives in the middle of the night, when no on seemingly notices. It continues on without being heralded. Caregivers fit in, they don’t stand out. There will be no new discoveries in care that are covered on the nightly news—just their overwhelming comfort that lingers long beyond external applause.

Competition puts a price on everything. All competitive activities and relationships are reduced to a rational, costs-benefit analysis. “I should engage in this activity because the rewards will outweigh the costs.” Care, on the other hand, defies economic models and rationality. While game theorist hypothesize and measure from afar in the sanitized echo chambers of rationality, we are busy being with another as life unfolds. Being near those who need care may provide us no economic benefit, no fame, and no glory. And yet we do it anyway, hour after hour and day after day. Care defies outsiders’ hypothesis or predictions because it’s impossible to assess what happens when care meets love.

Care isn’t just a private statement. In today’s world, it’s a political statement as well. It’s a reminder that change isn’t always voted on. Leadership isn’t always something we cheer for—it happens when most others aren’t looking. It’s time we begin rewriting the qualities we believe necessary for public admiration. “Winning” is fine, but it’s not nearly enough. Show me a person who has cared for another, and I can show you a person who won’t easily confuse applause with quality, accolades with trust, and riches with value. Isn’t it time care became the new prerequisite for leadership?

One Response leave one →
  1. April 20, 2016

    This is a fantastic article! A perspective few have thought of, and so very very profoundly true!

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