Life is a constant series of struggles between unequals.
[This is not to say that we should not all have some sort of theoretical equal footing from which to find, determine, and establish our eventual inequality - some sort of "level playing field" is the only way to separate genuine individual inequality from the advantages and disadvantages of birth, inherited wealth, and other forms of a priori bias. Of course, even this level playing field, this device to have all the runners start at the same start line somehow, will be unequal in the end - it makes no sense to, say, train everyone to be an electrical engineer and start from there, when some people long before that will obviously be suited to different preparations for their lives ahead.]
Unequals compete for resources - the more productive worker may earn a larger share of the economic pie for their skills, or the inventive dealmaker might cut a better percentage of the take for their contribution, the marketing whiz will successfully sell more of their goods, even if they are actually inferior. This we all know, and to various extents ignore, admire, or decry the systems that exaggerate or mitigate its effects.
What is less obvious is that this takes place in many more arenas than simple economic competition. People also compete, in a broad society of possibilities, for power, fame, glory, recognition, etc., by rules which are sometimes clear and sometimes arcane.
It also takes place at a very personal level - for instance, we compete for the attention of someone we admire in some way, not necessarily with anyone else, and not for something that will necessarily be given to someone no matter what - we actually compete with, say, their own sense of how they want to spend their time, or who they feel they would like to spend it with.
This rather interesting struggle of unequals can have consequences that are comical, sad, or sometimes very interesting. It seems like some sort of crime to address interpersonal relationships with what seems like such a marketplace type analysis - but is not the marketplace as we knwo it that came first, it is this constant juggling and jockeying for social contact and connection that long precedes the marketplace of commercial trade.
People can have inaccurate self-images, leading to their constantly attempting to ingratiate themselves with those they find fascinating, but to whom they have little of value to offer (in whatever subjective terms that other values anything - wealth, looks, humor, good genes, personality traits...). Likewise some people will obviously "sell themselves short" and spend their lives, or a portion of them, stooping and suffering by interacting far below their level.
Most of the time however, hopefully, people will acheive various negotiated compromises (which may, of course, be far from verbalized) between their respective strengths and weaknesses of personality. Depending on the trait, sometimes like must live with like, or sometimes opposites will complement each other very well. This is subjective, and not veyr predictable, though hopefully individuals will have a fairly accurate opinion of their particular case. For instance, some "talkers" bond well with quite-type "listeners," while others feel alone and unappreciated if the conversation does not percolate and boil over as two minds both fill the room with ideas (hopefully each doing enough listening to make it an actual conversation, of course).
Everyone wants to "marry up." I suppose, in the commercial analogy, the ideal is that same as when two people trade goods or services, and both feel like they got the better of the deal. I'll spare you my pathetic attempts to draw examples of how this could work and leave it up to you. In reality, this does turn into a bit of a culture-wide struggle for associates with certain qualities that are generally perceived as valuable. Luckily, there still enough different kinds of people, and different value systems and goals, that many of us can find great examples of traits we admire, in people who are sufficiently motivated to reciprocate.
© Huw Powell humanthoughts.org