UnRival Network: What’s In A Name?

Photo by Nik Albert on Unsplash

Why are we called “unRival”? Get to know the meaning behind our name, why we talk so much about rivalry, and why it can be something positively harnessed rather than avoided.

Sometimes, people mishear our organization’s name as “unRivaled”. As in, “We are unrivaled in the field of peacebuilding. No one can hold a candle to us!” But the truth is, we don’t see ourselves that way.

In fact, we don’t want to pull ahead of rivalry with anyone; we want to transform our relationship to rivalry entirely–and we want to do it for others, too.

That’s harder said than done. When something new enters the marketplace of ideas, we understand its value based on how it competes with and out-performs other ideas. We wanted to get away from this pattern–but how? We realized we needed a new word for a new way of doing things.

We are motivated by the idea that violence is an extreme outcome of intense rivalries. We see violence not as a thing we do or that happens to us, but as a relationship in which we lose sight of the other’s humanity. 

When we become wedded to the ideals and identities our rivalries produce, we start to see those as more important than people. In the worst cases, we determine that the lives of those who don’t agree with us are expendable.

What is Rivalry?

Why, time and again, do humans choose ideology and identity over the lives of others?

It’s because we’re all competing for what we perceive to be very scarce resources: Identity and Belonging. All humans long for secure identities, but sometimes we see others as obstacles rather than fellow human beings with needs like ours who could be our friends.

Here’s how our Founder Suzanne Ross describes it:

Suzanne Ross

unRival Founder and CEO

When we stop and think about it, we get into rivalries with others who have similar desires and goals as we do. Shared desires and goals are also the basis for friendships. But when relationships turn rivalrous we begin to resent what we have in common. The thought of our rival beating us at our own game is infuriating! We insist that we are the best team or political party, the best country or religion with the best and most noble ideas. But that’s just window dressing hiding our irritation that they might be better at playing this game than we are. The phrase “You only hate the one you love” captures this dynamic perfectly.

In other words, rivalry makes us see our shared desires as obstacles, rather than roots of community.

Soon, our shared desires feel like a problem we need to solve. If what we have in common is the problem, then being different must be the solution. We put the spotlight on our differences and competing desires, creating a rivalrous pattern that can escalate to violent, dehumanizing extremes.

Yet even in this process, humans drift back towards what they share. They create strong senses of belonging between those who are against the same people or ideas. We still find our identities in our shared desires. But most of the time, that only happens after we’ve found someone to oppose. We exclude those others from our newfound sense of belonging–whether through violent bigotry, terrorism, or even open warfare.

Soon, we’re not only imitating those beside us, reinforcing our shared belief that our identities and belonging are at stake. We’re also imitating those we claim to be against, mirroring their desire to win the contest of identity at all cost. What a tragedy that our imitative, communal human nature, the very thing that enables us to form friendships, is so often violent and destructive!

We believe this cycle need not repeat forever. It is possible to find confidence in our own identities without scapegoating others. Without wisdom and intervention, however, navigating our shared desires will always tend towards violence. 

It takes deliberate effort to create an environment where a positive exploration of our shared desires can happen.

We chose to call ourselves unRival to represent the hope that even apparently irreconcilable rivalries can be transformed if that is what we desire.

The Problem Is the Solution

When experimenting with names for our organization, we wanted something that captured these counterintuitive truths about heated rivalries. Rivalrous relationships can be thought of as broken-down friendships, like a car missing a wheel wobbling off-kilter and skidding off the road. 

If that empty space causing the problem is dehumanization, then the missing wheel is admiration for the other. 

If we can re-attach admiration like a missing wheel to our relationships, we begin to un-rival the relationship and discover possibilities for friendship–even collaboration–that have been sidelined by the rivalry. We and our rivals can jump in the car together. 

But no road trip is smooth sailing! Conflict is our constant companion, but stopping now and then to pump some air into the admiration-wheel can help us stay on the road so we can move forward together. 

We chose to call ourselves unRival to represent the hope that even apparently irreconcilable rivalries can be transformed if that is what we desire.

unRival is a Verb

Rivalry will always be with us. The difference between violent and nonviolent rivalries is in the attention we pay to our feelings of rivalry, and our deliberate work of valuing and admiring the other. When given the proper environment, our tendencies to imitate one another become wellsprings of confidence, transformation, and refreshed identity. And this is where the work of unrivaling comes in.

Unrivaling means bringing our rivalries to the surface, and setting our imitative natures on the path of discovering a nonviolent identity. 

That makes unrivaling a little more complex than “nonrivalry”; we’re not trying to suppress competition and rivalry, but to create environments where mutual admiration can emerge, exploding into creative solutions instead of devolving into violence.

Three unRivalrous Questions

The process of unrivaling begins with challenging and questioning three things:

1. Question violence.

When violence, exclusion, or punishment are proposed as solutions to a problem, boldly ask for evidence of why it’s the right solution. Violence is a means of maintaining rivalry, and we should demand to know who will suffer because of it. Don’t be satisfied with answers that involve reducing the lethality of our violence or taking steps to minimize “collateral damage”; these are mere management techniques. We need to get out of the business of managing our violence and into the business of finding alternative, nonviolent ways to solve our problems and discover our identities.

2. Question rivalry.

When we feel the need to defeat another at any cost, we need to question our desires. Why do we want this prize — the promotion, the client, the political office, the lover — so desperately? Do I want it because my rival wants it? What if s/he stepped away from the rivalry and just handed me the prize? Would I feel triumphant or let down? The phenomenon of “buyer’s remorse” is a good thought experiment here. Sometimes we invest the prize with too much value, as if it is the key to our well-being. Then when we get it, we find that we were mistaken. Winning is not all it’s cracked up to be!

3. Question “us vs. them” narratives.

When told that others are obstacles to peace who must be destroyed, don’t believe it! There is evil in the world, but it is not what you think.. It is the justification of violence in the name of my good, my peace, and my security at the expense of another’s. We can achieve a pale imitation of peace by justifying ourselves this way, but it is a peace purchased at the price of other’s lives and well-being. It is an unjust peace that will always come back to haunt us. 

Artisans of Peace

At unRival, we’ve shaped our organizational values and goals around questioning these big narratives. With the Artisans of Peace program, we’re asking these big questions in a big way.

We’re experimenting with ways to create more of these unrivalrous communities all over the world–communities of belonging for everyone, that welcome diversity and solve conflicts nonviolently.  

We invite you to follow this link and learn more about the program, and follow our story as we learn to unrival together!

Hold onto hope with us.

When we resist rivalry together, there is hope for peace.

By contributing as little as $25, you join us in supporting peacebuilders who are bringing creative solutions to the world’s toughest problems. Your donation funds leadership formation programs, research, and resources for those resisting rivalry with you.