I was schooled to compete in the classroom, in examinations and on the sports field in preparation for life in, what Mary Midgley described as, the ‘intense competitiveness of the Western world’. Many of us are obsessed with winning, believing that life is not worth living unless we are at the top of the hierarchy. As result, we strive for the top where there are only a limited number of places so most people remain in the middle or bottom no matter how hard they strive. If they are led to believe that they are despised for their position in the hierarchy then they will be miserable and make those around them, both above and below, miserable too. It took me some time to realise that happiness was not the exclusive property of those at the top of the hierarchy but can be found anywhere through supporting and valuing others. As a young naval officer, I was trained to look after those under my command and to gain their respect. I hope that as a leader in academia I have learned to blend the competitive and compassionate elements of the training I received as a young man to create happy and successful communities in which individuals can thrive. It is ongoing challenge that requires constant vigilance [see ‘Leadership is like shepherding‘ on May 10th, 2017].
Mary Midgley, Beast and Man – the roots of human nature. Abingdon, Oxon. Routledge Classics, 2002.