Read the case study below and then respond to the questions that follow.
Competition and Culture
The pervasiveness of competition in the United States can easily delude to us into believing that humans are competitive by nature. But where is the evidence that humans must compete because nature makes it inescapable? Even the depiction of life in the animal world as “survival of the fittest” and “red in tooth and claw,” to use Tennyson’s metaphorical description, vastly overstates the competitive aspects of life on Earth. Anne Fausto-Sterling (1993) observes that “research in the past decades shows that cooperation among species plays at least as big a role as violent struggle.” (pg. 24). Zoologist Frans de Waal notes, “Aiding others at a cost or risk to oneself is widespread in the animal world” (Boyd, 1996). Cooperation, according to this new school of thought, has survival value. Animals that help each other find food and ward off predators do better that those that go it alone (Boyd, 1996).
Comparing cultures reveals that “it is the norms of the culture that determine its competitiveness” (Kohn, 1992, p. 39), not human nature. Anthropologist Margaret Mead (1961) claimed that “it is the way the structure of the society is built up that determines whether individual members shall cooperate or shall compete with one another” (pg. 481).
Consider the typical case of an elementary student who experiences difficulty discerning the correct answer to a math problem. The teacher urges the student to “think harder,” applying further pressure to the intimated youngster desperately hoping for a flash of brilliance. Mean while, fellow classmates are frantically waving their hands, certain in their minds that they have deducted the right answer. Finally, giving up on the perplexed child, the teacher recognizes another student who excitedly shouts the correct answer. One child’s misery is another child’s triumph. Henry (1963) summarize this commonplace competitive situation in U.S. classrooms this way: “So often somebody’s success has been bought at the cost of our failure.”
To a Zuni, Hopi, or Dakota Indian (besting another student) would seem cruel beyond belief, for competition, the wringing of success from somebody else’s failure, is a form of torture” (p.35).
Chuck Otterman’s experience coaching football to students at Arizona’s Hopi High School illustrates the normative nature of competitiveness. Football, with its emphasis on hitting opponents, psyching up for games, and total commitment to victory, contradicts almost nine centuries of Hopi culture and religion.
Located on a reservation, Hopi High hardly embraced football. As Otterman (Garrity, 1989) explains, “They are used to win-at-all-costs, beat-the-other-man mentality. Their understanding of life, of what it takes to be a good football player” (p. 11). Hope football players did not initially understand the game. Hopi fans didn’t know what to do at the games, so Otterman had to be both coach and cheerleader, frequently urging the small crowds to stand up and shout their support for the team.
In the second year of the program, the team went a respectable 6-4 thanks to excellent quarterback and sure-handed wide receivers. Nevertheless, their quarterback, Jarrett Huma, was uncomfortable with his impressive record-setting personal statistics. Huma and his teammates felt more comfortable when his proficiency at quarter-back fell off the next season. Otterman observed that individual success made them uneasy.
After three seasons of bringing football to a community that was skeptical from the outset. Otterman resigned, citing lack of community support for the program. Otterman explained, “This community (were) just waiting to say, ‘Football is bad, we don’t want it.’ And maybe they’re right. I really don’t know. I don’t think the Hopis knew what they were getting into” (pg. 16).
There is abundant evidence demonstrating that American hyper competitiveness flows primarily from an individualist value system, not a biological imperative (Chatman & Barsade, 1995). Collectivist cultures tend to be far less competitive than the United States (Cox et al., 1991). Two separate studies comparing American groups (high individualist) with Vietnamese groups (highly collectivist) found that Americans were competitive but the Vietnamese exhibited an “extraordinary high rate” of cooperation, even when faced with competitive strategies from others. The authors of these studies concluded: “The difference between the extremely individualist and extremely collectivist cultures was very large and consistent with cultural norm” (Park & Vu, 1994, p. 712). Cultural norms heavily influence the degree of competitiveness in a society.
1. In your judgement, was it appropriate to introduce football to the Hopis? Explain. If you were the coach, how would you have dealt with the situation?
2. From the Cultural Iceberg and/or the course text, share two things the coach could have taken into consideration, to better understand the Hopi players and their communities response to football. Could the Hopi community have been more open to having the football team? Why or why not. Explain.
3. As this is a small group communication course, share two things you learned from the case study, cultural Iceberg and/or the course text that can provide more insight, as to how you (as a group leader/group member) can better understand and support diversity, when working in small teams/groups.
*Resource of case study: Focus on Culture – Source: Competition and Culture from In Mixed Company, J. Dan Rothwell, Fourth Edition (p. 95 – 96)