Monday, February 12, 2007

Friendly competition? Voting, friendship, appreciation, and popularity

Patience recently went to the Best Birthday Party Evah.

This wasn't the uber cool Go Cart birthday party (although that one got my vote), the Chuck E Cheese birthday, the Jumping Jam birthday, or any of the others. It was an at-home birthday party, probably mainly with clever homemade crafts and snacks, if I know the mom (and I do).

When we got the invitation, Patience was beside herself with excitement. This was...unusual. Historically she has been rather ho hum about birthday parties.

I believe she was so excited because this is her Creative Imagination Animal Loving Science Friend. How many other little girls in the world will endlessly pretend to be a puppy, even magic markering whiskers and a nose on her face?

And this party was Dogs! Dogs! Dogs!

Patience was ecstatic. She came home with a goodie bag that had her hopping and speaking in rapidexcitedlittlegirl speak she was so thrilled. It had a REAL PRETEND doggie dish she could use! And the mom had made little cookies shaped JUST LIKE REAL PRETEND DOGGIE FOOD! It was in a bag JUST LIKE DOG FOOD! And she got a candy bone! And a mat for her doggie dish! And doggie ears!

Honestly, I was impressed.

She also came home with a prize she won for a "Pin the Bone in the Dog's Mouth" game they played. She apparently got the bone right in the mouth and WON a stuffed DOG!

This was an important distinction for her to make to us, "Everybody got a dog, Mom and Dad, but I was the real winner. I was the only one who got the bone in the right spot."

And that got me thinking.

My husband believes in competition. He thinks it motivates, asks us to reach a higher level. He's not a big believer in the "make everybody happy all the time" philosophy that is sweeping not just birthday parties but also kids' sports. He believes in winners.

I grew up with a "there are no winners" sort of philosophy. This is a euphemism for the "don't let it go to your can always do better" parenting technique.

Patience has recently entered into a very competitive phase (or is it just a phase?). She is now developmentally capable of understanding place and status. It's a larger concept she's grasped, and includes time.

But it also includes winning and losing.

I've had to step back and ponder why this makes me so uncomfortable, why my instinct is to step in and "temper" her competitive instinct, especially if she's taking too much pride in winning.

I don't believe this is the correct thing. I think there is a middle ground, wherein I congratulate her, without comparisons or discussions of others and how they performed, and then move on instead of making it Such a Big Deal (unless that is called for, which sometimes it is...but not for a birthday party game).

But I'm still a little uncomfortable with all of the visions of "competing" I've seen in my children's world. There's

(a) hard, flat-out competing, with one winner and a bunch of losers
(b) the everybody always wins
(c) there's no winners or losers because we don't keep score

Perhaps like Patience, I am entering a new phase about competition. Prior to now, it just never concerned me. I'm sure it does now because she notices it, and is concerned about it.

My husband and I discussed this last night and a number of points all converged in my mind to form one question: are we the better for measuring ourselves against each other in a constant bid for place and status?

And my mind moved beyond just wondering about my daughter and her recent competitive bids. I began thinking about competition in life, generally.

I think competition can be a good thing. Feedback can help you grow, understanding how your skills measure up to another can help you decide a direction, and so forth. I do think some healthy competition can motivate us to strive to do our best. I prefer that to be chiefly and internal, self-motivation, but some external motivation can be healthy too.

But what about people who are already at the top of their game? At some point, do compeitions and awards degenerate simply into popularity and self-congratulatory behavior?

I think it started with Piglet of Fire's interesting post in which he wrote, "Does anyone pat themselves on the back more than the entertainment industry? I was starting to go through withdrawal, because more than 2 weeks had elapsed since the entertainment industry had an award night for itself."

I laughed and agreed.

But then I paused and pondered the question.

I think there is a group competing with the entertainment industry for more pats on the back. I think it is bloggers.

I don't go more than a week without seeing this award or that award, campaigning for votes, etc.

I'm losing my appreciation for it.

I did wonder whether this was sour grapes on my part. I'll be honest. I don't think it is.

I'm as pleased (maybe more so) as the next person when I get a nice little nod of appreciation. I proudly display my two perfect post awards on my sidebar, near the top no less. That's superego friends.

One time I even asked a person to send in a post if they thought it was funny. I regretted the request as soon as I made it, but I didn't alter my words (as much as I wanted to). Why, then, did I ask? Because I felt like I was supposed to. I felt like I was supposed to market myself. I feel this obligation to not let people down and be the best they think I can be.

The truth is, I just want to write my little blog how I want to and use it to process through a variety of topics. That's ego.

I don't want to stand side-by-side with others, especially others I really like and ask people to choose who is best. It's pretty arbitrary usually, anyway.

So why am I okay with awards like the perfect post and ROFL? Why do I think the Just Posts are the greatest thing ever?

Because everyone is a winner in those awards. All you have to do is say, "This post is great, this post was funny, this post made me consider how to add value to the world." and BINGO. Winner. With the Just Posts, you can even send your own post in, and there's simply link love for great posts.

It's not about "this post or this blogger is better than the rest" it's about "hey I noticed this post and it moved me, motivated me and I want to share it."

I realize the popularity contests are all meant for fun and to do good, just like the ones in hgh school.

But I won't go vote, even though some of my absolute favorite bloggers are frequently nominated. Even though I think these people deserve positive recognition. I think the best positive recognition is the high traffic to a blog and the large number of comments. What better way to know that your words hold meaning and are reaching your audience?

I simply can't choose among great blogges, all of whom I like, in different ways on different days.

And I'm not sure why I need to.

Awards are awfully nice to get nominated for and to win...but to what end, I wonder. What value do they add?

So let me ask you: are we the better for measuring ourselves against each other in a constant bid for place and status?

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert


Mary-LUE said...

An interesting question. For me, my blogging has evolved from a desire to stay in touch with family to a need to explore grief to a desire to write for the sake of writing and self-expression. Because I am so social, however, I also enjoyed getting to know other bloggers through their blogs and comments.

This is where is gets sticky for me. My real purpose in blogging has not changed. I can't help, though, but be tempted by the thought of writing to draw an audience, of wanting to be praised for how I write or what I have to say. This is dangerous territory for me and when I catch myself envious of an award or at the number of comments a blogger receives, I have to either take a few days off or make a point of writing something for myself. My Sleeping with Bread posts are excellent for bringing me back to my senses. There is no way to honestly do the exercise AND hope that others are going to like what I have to say.

Of course, I feel the need to insert the standard disclaimer that I am only speaking to my blogging and do not judge anyone else who writes for different reasons.

On competition in general, I'm uncomfortable with it personally. But not because I have any legitimate arguments against it. I just lost at almost everything way too much. I was horrible at sports, smart but not so smart that I won awards at school. I'm also uncomfortable with that desire to win inside of me. Finally, I always feel so bad for the "losers" which is why I usually avoid Super Bowls and other such competitions. I experience both the thrill of victory AND the agony of defeat.

I'm not sure how old your daughter is but I know that six is a very, very competitive age. In fact, the Your Six Year Old book recommends avoiding games with clear winners at that age. It says that a six year old will basically do whatever it takes to win and will often resort to cheating to do it if necessary. This was very true of my son and my daughter (although she was definitely more competitive at an earlier age.)

Wow... I've been writing these ridiculously long comments lately which I usually reserve for when my husband is travelling.

Mary-LUE said...

P.S. Looking at my comment I think my transition from paragraph one to two isn't clear. I think that if I didn't read other blogs, I would be less aware of awards and popularity, etc. If I just hit publish on my posts and didn't explore the blog'verse around me, I would be less tempted to succeed.

Mad Hatter said...

I love competition when it can be true competition. The 100 metre dash. The Stanley Cup playoffs. The world series. These things all happen in a circuscribed space where the rules are written down and there are people to offiate.

Writing competitions and blogging competitions are things that I more wary of. I read some bloggers b/c they make me laugh; others help me stay in touch marginally with pop culture; most, however, make me think. I cannot say that blogger X makes me think more than blogger Y. They make me think in different ways and speak to different moments of my life. Many of my favourite bloggers have kids who just turned two--it's not surprising that their words speak to me particularly well.

So yes, I am with you that I feel uneasy around the competitions that imply there is such thing as a BEST BLOG EVER. I do like the competition short lists (like Share the Love) though b/c they give me yet another way to browse through this dense jungle of writers. That's why I also like the ROLFs and PP's. And well, of course, I'm a fan the of the Just Posts.

Ramble, ramble, ramble. I'd best go now.

Julie Pippert said...

Once again Mary-Lue, it's like you are inside my head. :)

My blog has evolved, as well, and I struggle with what my true purpose is. Like you said, it's dangerous territory for the same way.

My husband says my blog is a mess and I'll never get a readership because I can't stay focued on any one genre.

I find myself, after that sort of comment, thinking, "Oh dear, I need to focus, get on a topic and stay there. I need to market. I need to work the Web, get readers."

Then I, like you, force myself to step back. Wait. Who am I writing for, and why?

I am writing about what moves me, what matters to me. My goal is to write well, write meaningfully, and to write, to express. Even if it only ever is to 15 people.

I am competitive, but like you I am uncomfortable with competition. And I wonder if it is because I never developed any esteem about it. It's complicated why I didn't, but suffice it to say that in general, I am a great average joe.

If Simon Cowell had me to judge, I imagine he'd say, "You look good enough, you sound good enough, but you're forgettable. You'll never make it past Hollywood."

I noted to my husband it is always to fantastic people you see on AI auditions: fantastically awesome or fantastically terrible. No average joes, on the whole.

Is the excluded middle a fallacy? ;)

Anyway, truthfully, the gig is up: I'm okay about being average. I find special and do special within my own life. I never, ever wanted fame. I'm okay with enough, if that makes any sense.

You know Gwen at Woman on the Verge recently wrote a great post about "what make special?" I'm thinking of that just now.

I don't usually see what I feel is healthy competition. I think a lot of it is posturing, or detrimental rather than positively motivating. And that might affect my opinion.

My husband says it affects my behavior, as does my unending sympathy for others. He says I am hopeless on athletic teams because I'm just out to have fun, and I'm horrible for yelling, "That's okay...good effort," to someone regardless of team (he and another guy friend used to snort and shake their heads as I tried to console the opponents).

Hey I love your comment, and am personally notorious for being long-winded. :) (Sheesh just look at my reply to you LOL.)

Anyway you added to this for me. I really want to process it in order to determine how to go about the issue within parenting.

So, six is the notorious age of competition, eh? Maybe I need to take a few minutes and read about this...

Julie Pippert said...

Mad, that's a great point. My husband and I discussed that last night.

I think at some point these "everybody wins, we don't keep score" athletic teams aren't perhaps the best idea for all kids. I think there is an important lesson to be learned in true competition, as you described, with winners and non-winners.

Yes, standing apples to the side of oranges and asking me to vote BEST doesn't sit well with me.

I like those linky love lists (like your Just Posts) and often find great new blogs through that sort of thing (and the PPs and the ROFLs) (nominees and awardees).

But my greatest source is often, believe it or not, comments!

Commenters either here or on other blogs often lure me over to check out their site. And I'm always so glad I did.

Thailand Gal said...

I don't care much for competition. Never have. I don't want to live in a world that is divided into winners and losers.

In the arena of sports or something of that nature, non-essential to fundamental well-being, competition doesn't hurt much and satisfies a need for those who like it.

I draw the line when basic human need is marketed. When people have to compete for food, housing, education or medical care, it's just plain wrong.

As for bloggers.. well.. I enjoy all the ones I read. As many have said, it's for a series of different reasons. Popularity contests or cliquishness is something I don't want anything to do with ~ and have never participated in anything even remotely connected to it.

As for thanking or acknowledging bloggers, that is what comment boxes are for. I try to leave something at each blog I visit ~ at the minimum, at least a "thanks". The only time I am prevented from doing that is when I can not read the verification words. My eyes are very bad. I'm legally blind.. so those warped letters are sometimes too much.

I use comment boxes to find new bloggers as well. When I see someone new commenting on one of my regular reads, I visit their site. I always visit the sites of those who comment on mine. :)

Good topic! I wish more people would address it.



Julie Pippert said...

Oh Chani, you bring up the MOST important point of ALL: competing for necessary resources.

Ouch, what a sore point to me.

This came up twice for me today: once in mom's group and once in women's group. And now again in your comment.


I agree about comments (obviously) and popularity contests---which I don't equate with healthy competition.

I didn't nominate anyone (or vote for anyone) for any share the love or other voting awards. This isn't a lack of love or admiration from me. I show my appreciation via comments, honestly. It's just...OMG the pain of choosing? Was beyond me.

Jozet said...

"My husband says my blog is a mess and I'll never get a readership because I can't stay focued on any one genre."

I don't think it's about genre; I think it's about voice. Even within a genre, I want to read an authentic voice.

As for awards, well, I enjoy giving them because it's a good way to introduce great writers to a larger audience. I loved the post of yours which I awarded, but moreso, it was a sort of "lifetime achievment" award in that I think that your authentic voice should be more widely read.

As far as competition, I think that there is the good, the bad and the ugly. With kids, I see too early on how competition can ruin the enjoyment and positives of being part of a group. And I think that it's the tying oneself to a group that is most important for young kids: interdependence. And also allowing kids to explore different activities and being able to define themselves as a person who likes to do ________, before right away defining themelves as someone who is good or bad at doing __________.

At some point, a child or adult may decide that they want to pit their skill or talent against others. And this is fine. I just mourn that so many little kids sort of de-select themselves from activities because of any competition attached to it.

But yes, I did and do notice that 5 and 6 seem to be the ages when kids first really digging in to the whole idea of competition. There's not much one can do with some ages/stages other than ride them out. I just try to be aware with my 5yo not to let her get too caught up in the competition to the point that losing means completely turning away from the activity. Unless it's a spitting contest or something like that. :-)

IzzyMom said...

I see what you're saying and totally dig where you're coming from and even had similar thoughts about awards because I am generally not comfortable with competing.

However, never having been nominated for anything in my whole life, I was beyond flattered that someone out there thinks that I write in a way that exhibits or encompasses "Woman Power".

That means a lot to me because I am a mother raising a "woman to be" and if I don't win, it's okay.

I really mean it when I say just being nominated is an honor :)

Jon said...

"My husband says my blog is a mess and I'll never get a readership because I can't stay focused on any one genre."

Husband speaking...I hope this is not really the message I convey...

I don't think mess would describe my perception at all. I think that her posts are engaging, thoughtful and from the heart. She does not pander to the Gods of SEO to deliver content that is easy to find...she writes it how she feels it.

Tbh, my concern is really with the conflict between the drive to be heard and desire to maintain untainted expression of thoughts and feelings.

The drive to be heard translating into hours and hours of staring at site stats and beating herself up about not having more readers.

My only point to her either have to feed them what THEY want in a format and structure that the SEARCH ENGINES want (translation: selling out)...or you do it your way and are happy with the cult following.

I think it is possible to have it both ways, but it does take some compromise.

The 3 things that hurt her in the eyes of search is that her blog overall is topically unfocused (which can be overcome), her post are really long and thoughtful (which many web readers don't have the patience for) and she does no keyword research to feed the engines with search terms that will bring in targeted visitors.

I think you can have an very popular blog on random issues...particularly if you are thoughtfully analyzing them. I just think you have to do a little research into what the potential reader might be thinking when they go looking for views/news/information about the topic/issue. Which requires a little keyword research and a little investment in placing those keywords appropriately in the post. And then taking a post that becomes really long and breaking it into more easily digestable parts...ideally around the keywords you discovered. Whether this means selling out is debatable, but I think if you deliver the same message with the same thoughtfulness and depth...just in a more search friendly way, that you are not.

Anyway...I haven't written a lick so I can only speak to the countless hours of research I've done on drawing traffic to an as yet unlaunched site. So my advice is second hand. And my goals will be different...I want to provide the service of feeding people exactly what they are looking for (well written and informative)...and get paid for it.

Julie wants to make people think. A far more noble endevour.

I just wish Julie could enjoy having a venue to express herself and be happy with the knowledge that she has touched some people with her thoughts and feelings.

Julie Pippert said...

Jozet, I agree about that: I want an authentic voice. I strive for that in my own writing, and seek it in others.

I like the awards such as Perfect Post and ROFL Awards, and link love such as Just Post. In fact, I peruse those every month. When I nominate someone, it's like I said in my's because it moved me, the post.

What's great about those types of awards is there's no "choose this blogger's post over that one." It's simply: here's a great list of great posts, enjoy! It's simply a great way to acknowledge a blogger and post. Without voting or popularity. KWIM?

I'm in favor of awards, just not in favor of popularity contests. I hope that came through?

Now I feel like a Dixie Chick, after your comment: eh what's this little award on my sidebar, wowowowowowowow Jozet said I'm cool! LOL

Now for you hitting on my chief concern...

Okay, so up to this age, I've been pleased as punch with the "everybody feels good about what they contributed to the group effort or game and we all go home happy" approach.

Now, though, I'm wondering (obviously) especially because this winning thing is SO important to Patience. I mean, driving to school a red light turns green and I accelerate, and by coincidence, pass the car that was at a dead stop, and she yells, "WOO HOO!!! We're beating them, we're winning!"

And I'm all ???????

Is this about the age you feel a natural and logical transition can happen for allowing in some healthy competition?

And how does one foster healthy competition?

FWIW, I have a perfectionistic kid who is apparently highly competitive. Daily I work with her on her inclination to give up because she can't be top dog or the best or do it perfect. I want her to keep at it, but accept a personal best versus some outside standard. God help me.

Gwen said...

So many comments, so many thoughts. I was a crazy competitive kid (why can't I spell that word?) who apparently ruined Game Night for my family because of the tantrums I would have when I lost. And this started around 4. My 6 year old gets the concept of winning and pays lip service to caring about it, but she really just doesn't. And here's the sick part: while I see how much happier her life is with her laissez faire attitude towards competition (can you apply that term to something besides politics? oh well, I just did), I *still* want her to be more competitive. Because (not so) secretly, *I* want her to win. I'm fighting that all the time.

So there's the context for what I'm going to say about blog awards: they kind of bug me, especially in their ubiquitousness (which probably isn't even a word and has to be spelled wrong), but also? because I've never won any. I'd like to think my general distaste for them is pure pure pure, but really, it's probably just sour apples or grapes or whatever the fruit of envy is.

But here's the thing (and since your commenters tend to be a pretty chatty bunch, I feel free to ramble here), all that stuff your husband was talking about in terms of attracting people to your blog: I do NOT understand it. And I don't think I want to. I deliberately try to write to my own voice and purposes because the competition makes me ugly. It's not so much avoidance as it is a conscious decision to remove myself from situations that aren't that healthy for me. Now would it be better if I could work out my self-esteem/need to win issues? Maybe. Probably. But since I currently seem unable to, I choose instead not to play.

And for the record, I enjoy your long, thoughtful "unfocused" blogs. You are the kind of blogger I want to read: honest, expressive, thoughtful. That's what I'm looking for personally.

Julie Pippert said...

Izzy, I think the recognition and appreciation awards are great. That's why I specifically mentioned supporting your ROFL awards, the Perfect Posts, and the Just Posts.

You really had never been nominated for anything before? That so surprises me because I think of you as one of the top bloggers. People always quote you, link to you, you spin-off so many other blog posts and so forth.

I believe you about liking the nomination.

Julie Pippert said...


My husband delurked. And created his own blogger ID!

Happy Valentine's Day to you too sweetie! Never mind the card or flowers, this will do!

"my concern is really with the conflict between the drive to be heard and desire to maintain untainted expression of thoughts and feelings"

Yep. That's it. Exactly.

And, "I just wish Julie could enjoy having a venue to express herself and be happy with the knowledge that she has touched some people with her thoughts and feelings."

I am. I do. Promise.

I just struggle between that feeling of happy because this is already in and of itself a rich experience and this feeling, this expectation (that really is more externally driven) that I ought to accomplish something quantifiable.

Julie Pippert said...

Gwen, I don't understand any of that stuff my husband was talking about either. And he has patiently explained it to me over and over and over. He has pulled up successful blogs and said, "See, all this person did was X, Y and Z."

And I'm like, geez, what? There's a formula for success? Why can't I grasp it?

He can grasp it but hasn't the all-encompassing drive to write, and hard for me to comprehend, but he doesn't walk around composing blog posts in his head all day every day.

In all sincerity together my husband and I make one great person. :)

It's intriguing to me, what you said about removing yourself from the game because you don't find the healthy competition.

When Mary-Lue said she takes days off or makes a point of writing for herself when it starts to become too important what her status is or how she compares or what people think, etc. I really got that.

I have pondered, even recently, closing down my blog because I was getting too obsessive about it (on a variety of levels).

But after talking to my husband I decided, you know, the pros are really positive, and if I can find a way to work through the esteem stuff and the competition stuff and all the other baggage my blog sometimes brings out, I think I'll be the better for it.

Thanks for the warm fuzzy.

Since I frequently reference you in my posts and even here in these comments (before you even commented LOL) I hope you know also how much I admire your writing.

Jon said...

"And for the record, I enjoy your long, thoughtful "unfocused" blogs. You are the kind of blogger I want to read: honest, expressive, thoughtful. That's what I'm looking for personally."

And you...along with Julie's other regular readers are exactly the type of people that she is trying to reach.

The problem is there just aren't that many of you...or at least reaching a larger percentage of you would probably require a level of compromise she is not willing to make.

And there is nothing wrong with that...the honesty makes it pure and genuine. Which is rare on the net.

kim said...

"I just struggle between that feeling of happy because this is already in and of itself a rich experience and this feeling, this expectation (that really is more externally driven) that I ought to accomplish something quantifiable."

Yeah, what you said. Me too.

First-Competition-I believe that you can do your best, be acknowledged, and take pride in your accomplishments and at the same time encourage others to do so as well. It doesn't have to be (but sadly has become the norm) about crushing the other guy.

Second-your husband rocks!

bubandpie said...

I was very competitive as a child, in the sense that I was totally obsessed with winning things all the time. I really suffered because of the lack of opportunities to win more stuff, more of the time.

My mom was always overtly worried and uncomfortable with me winning things. My dad, on the other hand, loved it. And I think maybe that struck a good balance for me: I knew that at least one parent was pleased as punch when I won things, and I knew that my value did not hinge upon winning.

I'm far less competitive now, but I don't know if my attitude is necessarily healthier or better - in some ways I may be less able to handle competition now than I did as a child. My main competitor was always my best friend, and I don't think that either of us was especially gracious in victory or defeat. But none of that ever affected our friendship: we took it for granted that we would be happy to win and bitter to lose, so we didn't expect any elaborate shows of false happiness or modesty. There was an honesty about that stage that I miss now.

As for all the blogging awards (the competitive voting ones, that is), I see what you mean - it seems like there's a new one every month. It's a bit much.

Robert said...

We are the best judge of ourselves...every one of us can never be 100% truthful to any other god damn human being other than ourselves and God...and thats why its we ourselves who know our flaws and good points...thereby demonstrate a perfect wishes :)my blog would interest u i guess...can give it a try :)

Thailand Gal said...

Yes... this was the one. Thanks. :)

BTW, have you ever read Jonathan Kozol?



Robert said...

There can be no competition in friendship and we can only measure ourselves on the basis of our deeds and the love we get from others and not on the basis of worldy attributes...have a good day :)