“…. But they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” 2 Corinthians 10:12 (NKJV)
I’ve had this topic in my mind to write about for a while now. I had just picked up my computer to start, when a young girl asked me a question that so perfectly tied in with the thoughts in my head. Here’s how the conversation went:
She asked, “Who came first in your class?”
Me: Oh, umm… You wouldn’t know him.
She: But I came for your graduation.
Me: Oh yeah that’s true, but I doubt you can remember him. His name is Abraham.
She: So he was first overall in your set?
Me: Oh no, just my architecture class.
She: Who was first in the whole set?
Me: Umm, I can’t remember.
She (with an incredulous look on her face): You can’t remember?
Me (laughing): No I can’t remember.
She: How can’t you remember? You can’t remember who came first in your set?
Me (more laughter): I really don’t. We weren’t friends. We weren’t in the same class so…
She stares at me incredulously, apparently amazed I can’t remember.
Me (thinking hard, trying to salvage something): Wait, I think it was someone from Computer Science. A guy…
We live in a world where everyone judges themselves by themselves. We rank. Who’s the best this? Who’s the most that? Who are the top 10 this or that? It’s great to know your strengths and weaknesses. But this system of comparison really isn’t the best thing.
Lemme share some of my own story. Real talk here. In primary school, I was always top of my class. Looking back I can decisively say it wasn’t due to any special effort on my part. It just so happened that God created me with a love for reading, and a fairly good memory. And to top this off, I didn’t have much ‘competition’ from my classmates. There was usually quite a gap between me and whoever came second. For what reason? I have no clue. I remember the one time we had a new girl in our class who, according to my teachers, ‘challenged’ me. They made such a huge fuss about it! And when this girl (who I considered my friend) came second at the end of the year, she ended up sobbing uncontrollably at the awards event. There the 8-year old me was, unable to figure out whether to be happy about my achievement, or sad that my friend had lucked out. Then I began to wonder if we really were friends; ‘why was she crying so hard?!?’
So from the fish bowl of primary school, I went into the mini aquarium of secondary school. Much more ‘competition’ here. Still, I was usually top something. I remember staring at the JS 2 board where I was in the top 10 – 5 or 7, and willing my name to go a notch or two higher on the list. Plus, they grouped us by our first year results. They ‘smartest’ people in the first class down to the last class with the ‘least smart’. How stupid is that?!?
I then moved on to the sea of university. Learning was a bit more applied, especially in my programme; but still, I pretty much coasted through. Like I said, none of this was a result of any special effort on my part, I make no boast here. As part of GOD’s divine plan, it just happened. But 2 things from this experience:
- I began to think being identified as the ‘best’ in something was the only real way to be validated
- I realised that people respond to one another based on one scale of achievement or the other
I remember how, in uni, one guy in my class answered my question (about what the lecturer had said) as though I was dense. But by the time our first semester results came out, his, as well as most people’s, attitude towards me changed. I was now ‘worth’ paying attention too. Some esteem was placed on my opinion. It was really interesting to notice.
So, here I am, a graduate, full-time life-liver, with no awards in sight. No best wake-uper, most diligent driver, or top 10 beans-eater. No most frequent exerciser, best laptop treater, or top 5 hair styler… *bites nails in panic* What am I going to do with myself? How will I survive? 😀
Funny enough these things have crept into the workplace. Now, you have ‘employee of the month‘, ‘best sales person‘, and so on. If you’re a professional sportsperson, that one is another ballgame entirely. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong in rewarding or recognising a person for their hard work. It’s great (plus I have to say I love watching the Oscars 😀 )! Buuut when these things begin to breed animosity, contempt and strife, there’s a problem.
Now, you might say, “Well that’s the other person’s problem. Haters g’on hate. Go and do your own hard work.” But how about you look at it this way: By crowning one person the best, you’re sort of invalidating whatever hard work and sacrifice anyone else has put in. And to be honest, a lot of the ill-feeling usually just simmers under the surface, subconsciously even, and even when no ‘winner’ has been announced. Ever noticed how there is so much passive-aggressiveness in your office? Yup, competition right there. Plus, I also think some employers deliberately fuel a cut-throat work environment, More cash for them I guess.
I’ll be the first to say that I had an unhealthy obsession with being 1st. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, I now understand that the most important thing is that a job gets done well; as opposed to who did it. Instead of envying your teammate and trying to sabotage them, focus on working with them to achieve whatever common goal it is that has brought you together.
One thing I will say is that we probably need to revolutionise our general education system – it sucks. And has probably done more damage than good to most people’s self-esteem, and clarity of purpose. Little girls and boys are being brought up to believe that in order to matter they need to score high in our self-made ranking systems. Systems that are not infallible, and are misguiding 90% of the time. It’s just horrible, because it’s this same life-approach we apply to pretty much everything. And my goodness, some parents are out there fanning these flames. Ever heard the statement: “Does she have two heads?”
Anyway I shall end here. Do you identify with me? Have you noticed how competition can mess with your mind? Or do you think the more competition the better? I’d love to hear what you think.