It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World

A good friend in high school, whenever anything went wrong, would say, “Well, it’s a dog-eat-dog world.” Sadly, those words have a lot of truth in them. I suppose we should blame Darwin for pointing out that our basic natures include a survival of the fittest mentality. I played a lot of sports growing up and was as competitive as anyone. I can still remember the high I would feel when my competitive nature helped me lock in and focus on an opposing team.

Those early days of athletic competition were a good training ground for the rest of my life. The adult world is one big battleground. Countries compete to be world powers (sometimes for world domination). Businesses compete for market share. Individuals compete against each other for the biggest raise or best position, for the nicest things, and even for the cutest spouse – especially the cutest spouse (by the way, I won that last competition). My own family loves to play games and we can be so competitive when we do that are friend, who participated with us once, remarked that my family’s competitive nature was “just plain scary.”

As this clip from the movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer,[i] shows, it’s to the point that, in every aspect of our lives, we are told we have to hate our opponent if we expect to succeed:

Competition has reached the level of the absurd in some cases. I participate in the social media site, Linked In, and I am often surprised at the amount of requests I get from people I have never heard of. Some people apparently reach out to anyone and everyone, trying to connect with as many people as possible, even bragging about how many connections they have. But from my experience, it’s not the number of ties we have with others, it’s the strength of those ties, that really matters. Isn’t nice to have a close friend or two beside us each day as we face the dog-eat-dog world?

What makes a good friend, one that lasts separation and the passing of time? Dr. Alex Lickerman, writing in Psychology Today (February 2010), lists four elements of what draws us together as friends (with all of these needing to be present for a lasting friendship):

Common Interests – When our interests diverge and we can find nothing to enjoy jointly, time spent together tends to rapidly diminish. Not that we can’t still care deeply about friends with whom we no longer share common interests, but it’s probably uncommon for such friendships to interact on a regular basis.

History or Common Experiences – Nothing ties people together, even people with little in common, than having gone through the same difficult experience. We see it all the time in team sports, where off the field or court, we never spend time together, but are best friends on the field of battle.

Common Values – Although values alone are often not enough to create a friendship, if values are too divergent, it’s difficult for a friendship to thrive.

Equality – If one friend needs the support of the other on a consistent basis such that the person depended upon receives no benefit other than the opportunity to support and encourage, though the relationship may be significant and valuable, it can’t be said to define true friendship.

The opposite is also true. If one member of the friendship is always trying to one-up the other, it won’t be a friendship for long. Enjoy this clip from Bridesmaids,[ii] but especially notice these friends trying to best the other, making the situation all about each off them rather than the bride they should be honoring:

John Green, the writer of the book upon which The Fault in Our Stars[iii] is based, said it well when talking about our basic natures to outdo even our good friends:

“Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy. Outlasting death. We all want to be remembered. [We all] want to leave a mark. [But] the marks humans leave are too often scars.”

Why do we always hurt others, even those we love? When it comes to what friends should be for each other, I love this analogy of the coastal redwoods of northern California. Even though these majestic trees grow to heights of 300 feet and can weigh more than a million pounds, they have a very shallow root system. Their roots go down only three to six feet but spread out several hundred feet. As their roots extend out, they intertwine with other redwoods. This intertwining creates a webbing effect and is the secret of their strength. Without being connected with others, these redwoods would not survive.

Like redwoods, as friends, we need to learn to love and support each other, not compete with each other. Or as said in the closing scene of Seabiscuit,[iv] good friends “fix” each other:

Admittedly, competition can bring out the best in us. But I think there is a difference between competing with someone and competing against someone. Let’s do our best in life, but let’s celebrate the success of others, knowing that their success is often partly due to us, and the positive effect we can have on them.

The only thing I like as much as movies is musical theater. One Broadway play I enjoy is Wicked, not because of the story (which I find little cheesy), but because of the great music. And my favorite song is “For Good” near the end of the play.  Glinda and Elphaba are parting after some crazy experiences together, and they say some things about friendship that are spot on:

  • I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason,
  • Bringing something we must learn,
  • And we are led to those who help us most to grow,
  • If we let them.
  • And we help them in return.
  • Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true,
  • But I know I’m who I am today because I knew you.
  • Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes the sun,
  • Like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through the wood,
  • Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
  • But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.
  • It may well be that we will never meet again in this lifetime,
  • So let me say before we part,
  • So much of me is made of what I learned from you.
  • You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart.
  • And now whatever way our stories end,
  • I know you have re-written mine by being my friend.
  • Like a ship blown from its mooring by a wind off the sea,
  • Like a seed dropped by a sky-bird in a distant wood,
  • Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
  • But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

Here’s a dozen movies (in chronological order) I recommend about or exemplifying friendship. Find a friend and watch them together, and say thanks to your friend for being a friend – and don’t forget to be a good friend in return.

  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
  • Stand By Me (1986)
  • My Girl (1991)
  • Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
  • The Sandlot (1993)
  • Forrest Gump (1994)
  • Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  • Clueless (1995)
  • Toy Story (1995)
  • Good Will Hunting (1997)
  • Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Near the end of the Netflix original series, 13 Reasons Why,[v] Clay Jensen says it best: “I cost a girl her life because I was afraid to love her…. It has to get better. The way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.”

As we navigate through the dog-eat-dog world, may we be part of the solution, not the problem.

[i] Searching for Bobby Fischer

  • Production Company: Mirage Enterprises
  • Director: Steven Zaillian
  • Screenwriter: Steven Zaillian (based on the book by Fred Waitzkin)
  • Starring: Joe Mantegna, Ben Kingsley and Max Pomeranc
  • Release date: August 11, 1993

[ii] Bridesmaids

  • Production Company: Universal Pictures, Relativity Media, and Apatow Productions
  • Director: Paul Feig
  • Screenwriter: Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo
  • Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Rose Byrne
  • Release date: May 13, 2011

[iii] The Fault in Our Stars

  • Production Company: Fox 2000 Pictures, Temple Entertainment, and TSG Entertainment
  • Director: Josh Boone
  • Screenwriter: Scott Neustadler and Michael H. Weber (based on the book by John Green)
  • Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolf
  • Release date: June 6, 2014

[iv] Seabiscuit

  • Production Company: Universal Pictures, Dreamworks, Spyglass Entertainment
  • Director: Gary Ross
  • Screenwriter: Gary Ross (based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand)
  • Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, and Elizabeth Banks
  • Release date: July 25, 2003

[v] 13 Reasons Why

  • Production Company: Kicked Off the Curb Productions, Anonymous Content and July Moon Productions
  • Creator: Brian Yorkey (based on the book by Jay Asher)
  • Starring: Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford
  • Release date: March 31, 2017

1 thought on “It’s a Dog-Eat-Dog World

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