Nature, red in tooth and claw

I was at a workshop on food security earlier this week. The workshop brought together a diverse group of people; NGO’s, large retailers, government and small social businesses such as ourselves. During one of the group sessions, a discussion on collaborating around packaging came grinding to a halt over large retailer’s fears of it being seen as collusion, attracting the attention of the Competition Commission.

It got me considering the nature of competition. Many of us unquestioningly compete rather than co-operate. One of our customers was in another organic store recently, and, asked where she normally bought, replied “the Ethical Co-op”. “Ah, Ethical’s rubbish, you should shop with us” the shop assistant responded.

The positive side of competition is that when we see another excelling we focus on new possibilities, and are inspired to excel as well. The shadow side is fed by fear, inflames the ego and leads us to want to undermine the other.

Last night a Facebook friend posted: “If you want to be incrementally better: Be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better: Be cooperative.”

Our society is shifting from one of competition and fear, where nations, businesses and individuals all stomp over each other as they look out for what they see as their best interests, to one we are learning to co-operate. Starting in the Victorian era, nature and evolution were seen as “survival of the fittest” and “nature, red in tooth and claw“. It was an understanding coming from the times, mirroring what nations were doing, what individuals were doing. More recently, we are starting to understand how species and natural systems co-operate, how various parts need each other to thrive.

Co-operation is tricky. It involves new ways of talking, and new ways of listening. At times it seems slow. But building together, so much more is possible.

Have a wonderful, co-operative week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team.

To order, head on over to

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Lauren Reynders

    Hi Ian Thank you for your very inspirational post. There is a lot of competative energy going around at the moment especially in my circle and it really is never very pretty. People fighting over crumbs instead of stepping back and taking in just how big they pie actually is. Hope you dont mind but I put an excerpt of your blog on my Facebook page. Blessings

  2. David Lipschitz

    Dear Ian Thanks for this. I agree. Also see re working together and a new paradigm and way of thinking. I think the word you are looking for though is coopetition. See I have started doing this and it is working out great. Regards David