“The hyper competitiveness of the insecure”

While reading or listening, I am often struck by phrases that seem to articulate enough truth in them that they can stand alone, outside the context of the author’s larger work. “The hyper competitiveness of the insecure” is just such a phrase.

This summer I came across that phrase in Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town, by Brian Alexander.

The book is about Lancaster, Ohio, once the All-American glass manufacturing town that was thrown into a downward spiral by domestic Private Equity and foreign manufacturers. (See Fresh Air’s summary and author interview, that’s probably where I was introduced to it.) Since I had just moved to a former textile town in South Carolina and had recently stepped off the stomach-turning carnival ride of a PE-owned firm, it was easy to put myself into the writer’s narrative.

Months have passed and the details of Lancaster’s plight have faded, but the emotion, universality and explanatory power of that one phrase still stick with me.

“The hyper competitiveness of the insecure” pops into my mind every time I open Instagram — I think that’s the energy on which it thrives. The phrase also offered a decent-enough answer to the question of why the one middle-aged man in the stands at last week’s high school football game was going nuts over referee calls and poorly-executed plays—yelling at people who could not hear him and did not care what he said.

Myriad other examples pop up all the time, from politics, fashion, cars and certainly in the hyperbolic language of marketers.

As a young boy, my older sisters quit playing games with me, particularly Monopoly. “It’s no fun,” Katie told me outright, “because you always want to win.” My turns took too long. I was always digging into the rules to extract some unnoticed advantage. I would never be lenient when someone landed on my property. I gloated.

Now that I’m a bit older and taller than each of my four sisters, hopefully I am a bit more secure, thus more fun to have at both the game table and at the conference room table.

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