Cape Town, South Africa, made history last year when it was the first major city to be threatened by a devestating drought. Severe water restrictions and some late rains have slightly relieved the situation, but nonetheless strict restrictions on the use of water remain in place. This is the reason why I find myself taking a swim at our local Gym, rather than having a shower at home.
Today after completing my couple of lengths in the Olympic size pool, I noticed two young men racing each other in the adjacent lane. They were using a type of snorkel which I had never seen before, so my interest was piqued. I asked them how this snorkel worked. In a very engaging manner they explained to me that by grasping the mouth piece of the instrument, it allowed them to draw air without moving their head from side to side as they swam freestyle. Cutting down on the head movement and maintaining their mouth slightly under the water, they were able to streamline their movements and consequently increase their speed.
Nicolas, a computer programmer and Jonathan, a sports scientist were about to set off on a two length dash to determine who would complete this distance in the shortest time. I offered to be their ‘starter.’ “On your marks, get set, go,” I exclaimed. Off they went with Jonathan reaching the far side ahead, and Nick overtaking him on the return trip to reach the home base first.
One of the themes of my current research, which has already popped up from time to time in my former blogs, is to understand the competitive nature of mankind. I spied an opportunity to derive some new data for this project, and so posed this question to my two subjects, “Have you ever considered why the two of you enjoy competing with each other, or asked yourselves why you derive satisfaction from comparing your swimming abilities?”
I thought there might be some resistance to this intrusion into their privacy, but Nicolas was amazingly quick off the mark. He postulated that this competitive instinct may well be an evolutionary attribute. “Out there on the savannahs in days of yore it was the person with the quickest reflexes and greatest speed who would derive the main spoils of the hunt,” he explained.
This was a indeed a worthwhile angle to explore. My immediate response was to see the merit of this explanation, but there was another way of looking at the conundrum. “In today’s world, we are no longer dependent on hunting for our daily food. Our social conditioning would have taught us more subtle ways of meeting our needs,” I countered. Nicolas was once again quick torespond. “If you want to attract your mate,” he suggested, “then you need to demonstrate your skills in a wide range of activities. The more you draw positive attention to yourself, the more likely you are to be noted by members of the opposite sex and find yourself a mate, and spread your seed to the next generation.”
There was certainly a great deal of merit in his rationale, and his argument certainly worked for those who are looking for a mate. However, it still does not help this 80 year old woman to understand herself. She has spent the last week taking a one hour car trip to Somerset West, playing croquet in the sun for the next six hours, and travelling home in the evening for yet another hour. I am not looking for a mate. And I am very well fed. So, why do I need to put in so much effort to compete in the Western Province Croquet Championships?