I just got a good email from a friend about emotions and biochemistry. It got me thinking.
Envy and schadenfreude are common emotions. People like seeing their opponents fail.
Is it possible to get over that? Would it be desirable to get over that?
I think envy and schadenfreude and hatred are usually a detriment to people feeling them. This is obvious enough when you're playing a positive sum game - because Positive Sum Games Don't Require Natural Talent, and have a near infinite opportunity for success. Disciplines like inventing, engineering, finance, entrepreneurship, mathematics, and the natural sciences work hand in hand. Every win by an inventor opens lots of doors for engineering, finance, entrepreneurship, math, and science. And indeed, for other inventors.
A lot of people mistake positive sum games - like the economy at large - for a zero sum game. They think that if you get money, they'll get less money. Of course, it doesn't work like that, as our exponentially growing standard of living shows. Even if someone loses a local conflict (to gain market share in a new technology, for instance) they can still go on to invent and innovate in a new field.
Take Justin Kan from Justin.tv. His first startup was called "Kiko" and it was an online calendar. Google comes out with Google Calendar, which really put a hurting on Kiko, and Justin and team had a firesale of the remains of Kiko following Google duplicating their effort.
Sucks, right? Well, maybe not. Because of that, he goes on to found Justin.tv which looks really promising. Even losing a local conflict (Google eating your lunch in online calendars) can be positive-sum if the person whose lunch was eaten goes on to do bigger and better things.
But what about true zero sum games, like sports?
I got seriously interested in sports when I lived in Boston, so my primary teams were Red Sox/Patriots/Celtics. Now, if you don't understand the American sports scene, take my word for this - Boston fans were expected to hate the New York Yankees in baseball, Indianapolis Colts in football, and Los Angeles Lakers in basketball, due to long standing rivalries.
But after some thinking about it, I decided that wasn't the best way to go. "Intelligent people who like baseball and statistics" is a very small subset of people. Why curse and alienate intelligent Yankee fans? Wouldn't it be possible to root for likable Yankees, and to hope for exciting, crisp baseball games between the two teams, and a general increase in popularity of the sport, especially among people who like statistics?
As a Boston fan, you were expected to dislike the top players of the rival team - Alex Rodriguez, Peyton Manning, and Kobe Bryant.
But I think, man, sports fans (and especially sports fans really into advanced statistical analysis) are somewhat rare. Why antagonize them? Alex Rodriguez is a hell of a hitter, it's a pleasure to watch him hit.
Peyton Manning has some of the best vision for small things of anyone in any sport ever. He'll see a small twitch in the opposing defense, and "audible" - change the play at the last minute. It's fine to watch him with some awe, thinking what the heck did he see?
And it's cool to admire Kobe Bryant's massive work ethic, and his skills and fluidity playing basketball. Seriously, he's more graceful playing basketball than most figure skaters are. The guy is a joy of an athlete to watch.
I think looking for things to like, respect, connect with - even if you're playing a zero sum game - goes a long way. Instead of rooting for Peyton Manning to throw an interception, you start trying to figure out what he sees that causes him to audible... this is something most Patriots fan are blind to, because they hate the guy. They don't want to give him appreciate his skills, so they blind themselves to things they could learn about.
In the end, I think most sports fans would do well to root for exciting, quality games in their sport, and the sport growing in popularity. The more popular it gets, the more quality teams, clubs, and players will come into the sport. The more international competitions there will be in the sport. The more good games you'll see.
Could you root for your competition in business? I think to some extent, yes. Sure, give an all-out effort to win that market share. But also root for them to pivot and make massive dollars in (ideally) an unrelated field. Or to break new ground and new markets so you both prosper.
And this sort of goodwill means that if the company does fail, you can recruit some of their team on good footing.
This goes against human nature. We want enemies, and we want to root for our enemies to fail. This has been hard for me to adopt, and I'm still working at it. Maybe it's because I started reading the various war plans of historical communist leaders recently, like Lenin and Mao. I really dislike communism, but being open-minded enough to study "What Is To Be Done?" and "On Guerrilla Warfare" is increasing my knowledge of history and how thinks happen, and making me a better strategist.
Of course, there are no enemies in death. But maybe this same principle can be applied in life - yes, you can root for the Red Sox to win 110 games, and the Yankees to win 109, the sport to grow in popularity, and for an exciting championship series between the two teams. And if the Yankees win 110 and the Red Sox win less, well, you can still appreciate their quality pitching and hitting, and again root for the sport overall to grow in popularity.
This is admittedly hard to do. But I think it's good. It's not always possible, but I think it's healthy to start to want everyone to win.