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Where competition begins

On July 19th, 2019

I was speaking to a colleague recently, who announced that he couldn’t wait for his children to be out of primary school and into the British equivalent of high school.

When he told me why, the story was all too familiar. He is the father of an 11-year-old daughter, clearly a great kid – conscientious, academic, sporty and wearing it all well.

A great team-player, a popular all-rounder and, many parents agreed, a shoe-in to be the next year’s head of house (this is Britain, where schools often group children into ‘houses’).

During Awards Day, when they announced the positions for the following year, his daughter wasn’t chosen for head of house. That prize went to the daughter of one of the school administrators, who hadn’t anywhere near the same gifts, so much so that the announcement caused a stunned reaction in the audience.

Life is often unfair, and learning that lights don’t always turn green for you may ultimately create a vital sense of resilience in our friend’s daughter.

But his daughter isn’t the point of the story.

The reason for the slight, said our friend, was that he and his wife had recently turned down some voluntary position at the school because they both have full-time jobs, asking that it instead go to one of the stay-at-home parents. The stay-at-home parents, he said, were making a point.

In a sense, the children were extraneous to Awards Day. The people going after the prizes were the parents.

That’s life

This brought to mind one of many similar situations that occurred when our children were school age.

I remember standing in a drafty auditorium, watching one of my daughters in the midst of a dress rehearsal for her school’s annual production. A talented actress, she’d been chosen for the lead part during the auditions, but a few weeks before the dress rehearsal, had been shunted to a more minor role.

I had never been able to discover the reason for the change – and my daughter had refused to talk about it – until one of her friends let slip that when a new director had taken over, another 13-year-old girl had lied about her role in the play in order to take over the part given to my daughter.

This girl, I should tell you, was one of my daughter’s best friends.

When I tried to raise this tactfully with her mother, who was there in the audience week after week, shouting out stage directions to her daughter from her seat, she cut me off and shrugged.

“Well, that’s life,” she replied airily, “isn’t it?”

I was taken aback, but I had to admit she had a point. Certainly, that’s the life we grown-ups have designed for ourselves and our children. Competition makes up the very warp and woof of the societies of most modern developed countries. It is the engine of our economy, and it is assumed to be the basis of most of our relationships — in business, in our neighborhoods, even with our closest friends.

Being first, no matter how, has permeated our lexicon as a given: All’s fair in love and war. Survival of the fittest. Winner take all. He who dies with the most toys wins. It is hardly surprising that highly competitive tactics have crept into the social relations of our children, leading to transgressions, large and small.

Just consider the social exchanges in most neighborhoods and how much what psychologists call “relativity awareness” plays a part. How many children do you have? What kind of car do you drive? How many vacations are you off on this year? Which college has your kid gotten in to? What’s his or her grade point average?

Where, in other words, do you fit on the social ladder?

Our current paradigm, as provided us by traditional science, maintains a view of the universe as a place of scarcity populated by separate things that must turn against each other in order to survive. We’ve all simply assumed that’s life.

Many psychologists argue that competitiveness is hardwired within us, a natural biological urge as inherent as our basic urge to survive. After we stop fighting over food, water, shelter, and mates, the theory goes, we begin competing over more ephemeral prizes: power, status and, most recently, fame.

A connected whole

In my research, I’ve discovered other societies who live very differently from us, with a world view more in keeping with the findings of the new science. These cultures conceive of the universe as an indivisible whole, and this central belief has bred an extraordinarily different way of seeing and interacting with the world.

They’ve understood the essential nature of humanity as a coming together — a communion — and as a consequence, they live happier lives, with lower divorce statistics, fewer troubled children, less crime and violence, and a stronger community.

Every time I hear stories like my friend’s, I consider that at some point, we’ve torn up the social contract and forgotten how to come together.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve forgotten how to be.

If this sounds like a first-world problem, it’s important to understand that stealing drama roles doesn’t end there.

The individualistic, winner-take-all zeitgeist of modern times is to blame for many of the crises we presently face in our society, particularly the excesses of the financial sector, with its insistence on a bigger and better profit every year, at any cost.

Before being jailed for his part in energy company Enron’s vast array of fraudulent activities, CEO Jeffrey Skilling bragged that his favorite book was neo-Darwinist Richard Dawkin’s The Selfish Gene, and periodically fired the entirety of those of his workforce achieving the bottom 10 per cent results as a means of improving the overall ‘fitness’ of the herd.

This mindset is responsible for the raft of deceit that now goes on in every sector of society, from the 50 per cent of college students now known to cheat on exams to corporate cheating, even in sectors designed for the public interest.

The competitive impulse that is now a major part of our self-definition and that forms the undercurrent of all our lives is the same mindset that has created every one of the large global crises now threatening to destroy us.

If we can teach children that stealing drama roles aren’t the rules of the game, in my view, we will begin to heal our world.

Comments

comments

11 responses to “Where competition begins”

  1. Chris James says:

    thank you for this. As an ex school teacher I saw, too often, how children ‘pushed’ to achieve resulted in an unhappy child who became either increasingly isolated and would do anything to be one of the in-crowd or had few social skills. Sad.

  2. Roxy says:

    Thank you for sharing this very important point, occurring in all aspects of society.

    A few years back, I attended a University community leader luncheon. As I sat and listened to an Alumnus, in shock!. A University contributor and community business leader, shared how he was successful at his business. He does whatever it takes to succeed over the competition, and that he will steal from the competition to keep them at bay.

    I went back to my Professor of a business class I was in and shared this with him. He said “that’s business,” as one can imagine I was appalled.

    This seems to be a common thread among business today and as you can see Universities support it and teach this in Economics as well.

    We all know it’s happening and the biggest question for me and perhaps those reading this is; what are we doing to solve it?

    Love and Light,

    Roxy

  3. Kat Malkin says:

    I so agree with this.

    When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, I noticed some of this dramatic controlling behaviour going on with some of the children. Dominating, excluding, better than and less than.

    When I told the teacher and she said, “That’s the law of the playground! Can’t do anything about it,” I explained to her how the law of the playground is dumb, well, harmful and that kids/people can be taught pro social skills like empathy, sharing, collaboration, including, and befriending — amongst others.

    She was not interested. I moved my daughter to a different school and subsequently brought my daughter home to be educated in the family and community, in an environment that honours a broader, more sustainable perspective.

  4. Jill M. says:

    Thank You for writing this. Powerful concept, Wonderfully said. Keep spreading the Light. I Love You and Your Work ... Peace and Love ... Jill.

  5. Marlene Frothinger says:

    Thanks Lynne - Wonderful article to show the horrible example we can be as parents. So necessary to bring these ways of being to the light during this cultural call we are experiencing so that we can learn to love and empower each other instead. Thanks for your great work.

  6. Michele Asch says:

    Hi Lynn. Thank you for your post. I am currently a book by Dr Edith Eva Egar called The Choice. Dr Egar is a survivor from Auschwitz and wrote this incredible book at age 90 (that in itself is inspirational). I think you would love the book. I mention it here because cooperation was the only way she survived. She was a true competitor before the war - training to be an Olympic athlete.

  7. Katherine says:

    The examples being spoken about isn't the competition between the students, but competition between parents I think if parents stayed out of their children's "business" I think the kids will get along much better.

  8. Janice Marsh says:

    This a very sad reality. Richard Dawkins got it right. Selfish and Gene. Selfish is for survival. Gene is about choice in the new paradigm of quantum physics. By choosing not to be selfish we are thinking of others and display the characteristics of a loving community. By the way is Mr Skilling still in gaol? I wonder ....

  9. Enid Pennel says:

    WHO wins the race in the end.....the one who perseveres against all odds.....parents are there to support childern not demand 'winning' ar any cost....that is like 'bullying'

  10. Wise words--thank you for sharing!

  11. Ron Newbold says:

    Company share prices often tumble if a profit is announced that hasn't grown larger than last year's, even if the profit itself is considerable and healthy. The unreasonableness of such an ongoing expectation and the belief in infinite growth on a finite planet are widespread and characteristic of our time, How did so many become so deluded?

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