A local adult literacy program (for which I volunteer) holds an annual fund-raising spelling bee, with teams of spellers from various businesses participating. My company sponsors a team of four spellers, and holds a pre-bee to determine which of several potential spelling bee teams will go on to the big city-wide bee.
That pre-bee was today, and I was on one of the teams. We came in third, so no city-wide spelling glory for us. But that's okay because our goals were to 1) not be eliminated first, and 2) also not be the last one standing. None of us wanted to advance to the big bee - we only signed up to participate in the internal event for the fun of it.
But a funny thing happened as other teams fell away and we remained in the hunt. We really did not want to win. But we didn't want to be wrong, either....
So basically, it was lucky for us that none of us knew how to spell (or pronounce, or define or use in a sentence) the word that eliminated us from the contest. I'd never heard or seen it before and six hours later don't even remember what it was. But in the few seconds we were given to consult over its possible spelling, we were as determined to try to get it right as anybody going for a first-place finish.
Maybe it's personal pride. Or maybe there's something hard-wired in us, or conditioned by American society, that pushes our competitive buttons. In any case, something overtook reason, compelling us to win, even when the only real way to win was to lose.
So tonight, as better sense returns and I reflect upon the day, I can only be grateful to fate for saving us from our competitive selves.