“A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.” Sensei Ogui, Zen Shin Talks
A beautiful quote and concept, but… wait a minute. What is the purpose of an individual flower? To be fertilized, so it can produce seeds (with or without fruit). So, each flower, on its own, seeks to produce new life. But if this is the goal of each, wouldn’t it follow that flowers are in competition with one another? No, but why not? Because the more flowers that are fertilized, the greater the chance that the plant will reproduce successfully. The goal is survival of the species. Though the flowers work toward that goal individually, their collective successes benefit the whole.
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We’ve all experienced the presence (or absence) of this blooming concept in our own lives. Since I write, I’ll use that as an example. It might not occur to everyone, but writers and their writing constitute small businesses. We hope to earn income for our work, and in turn, we financially support editors, cover artists, publishers, and others. As small business owner-operators, it would follow that authors are in competition with one another. Correct? Well, some authors seem to think so, but I believe they miss out on a lot when they see it that way.
Let’s look at J.K. Rowling, with her off-the-charts success. Should I start writhing in bitter jealousy, turning a putrid shade of green whenever I think of her? Never. Why not? Well, I love her books, first of all… and, like Atwood and Bradbury and Faulkner and Kingsolver and Austen and the Brontës and Flaubert and (and, wow, so many, many others), I greatly admire her talent and hope to learn from it, but I also celebrate her books’ success.
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When people read good books and enjoy them, they are likely to continue reading and (hopefully) enjoying, and so on. The success of quality books directly helps build and strengthen a community of readers and, by extension, benefits society as a whole. (Teachers are, of course, another fundamental part of that building and strengthening and benefitting–and massive kudos to them for it.)
Would it work as well if writers were constantly driving one another down, trying to bring about the failure of each other’s books? Um, nope. And, thankfully, that isn’t usually the case. Some of my best mentors have been other authors.
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While I see great appeal in contributing and cooperating, I’ll confess, I tend to avoid competition whenever possible. I would much rather push myself to reach my personal best than try to outdo someone else. Yet, I understand that competition can sometimes be a good thing. Through recognizing another’s abilities, we might sharpen our own and drive ourselves that much harder toward success. It’s when we try to undermine others for our own benefit that competition gets ugly. That’s where it seems to detract far more from the whole than it could possibly contribute.
Honestly, would the trees in spring be half as beautiful if only a few flowers succeeded in growing, while the rest withered and dropped? People are unique, and so are our contributions. So much of the world’s richness would be lost if only the boldest got ahead. Isn’t there value in all the different voices, coming together?
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Aristotle once spoke of how the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and I believe this can be said of humanity at large. Synergy. It’s what we create when we support one another.
So, go on. Bloom in your own, uniquely beautiful way, but don’t forget the magnificence that happens when we join one another.
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*I’d like to take this opportunity to say again how deeply grateful I am to each and every person who has helped support me in my life–including in my writing endeavors–whether friend, family, or fellow author. I’m so glad you see me as a member of your team and I truly think we bloom brighter together.
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Just thought I’d share some of my favorite writing from the authors I mentioned above (I could have gone on with my list of works and authors–as I hope we all could):
J.K. Rowling – The Harry Potter series; Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale; Ray Bradbury – Dandelion Wine; William Faulkner – A Rose for Emily; Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible; Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice; Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre; Emily Brontë – Wuthering Heights; Gustave Flaubert – Madame Bovary.