All of us were at least once taught about the merits and challenges of competition. Like everything in the world, it too has its advantages and disadvantages.
Let us break this word down a bit and understand exactly what does it mean. So Competition is defined by the dictionary as ‘the activity or condition of striving to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others’.
The word to pay attention to is OTHERS. This definition quite simply means that as long as we are better than the rest, we have had a successful attempt at this activity. Our peer in this activity is called adversary, foe, competitor, opposition, rival, etc.
My class teacher once told us a story that explained the two sides of this coin. A Fisherman had two tubs, one was closed and the other open. A Passer-by saw that the open tub contained crabs and out of curiosity asked the Fisherman about the contents of the other one. The Fisherman nonchalantly answered, “Crabs”.
Confounded by the partial treatment he requested the Fisherman to explain the difference. The Fisherman answered, “The crabs in the closed tub are known for cleverly running back to the shore the first opportunity they get; the other, however, are known for pulling back the ones that try to get away”.
This story made us quite wary of each other; we looked around the classroom to spot the bad crabs. My teacher, I am sure, was expecting this ripple, hence with as much composure as before she said, “so which ones shall we all try to be?” we exclaimed, “the ones that are in the closed tub”. She then asked, “What happens to them in the story?”
We knew she was meaning to invoke a golden middle ground because the clever crabs were closely monitored, it was almost impossible to escape, and what is talent if there are no opportunities? They will become soup just the same. So now we had to think much harder.
Among all our answers, one answer shined. She said, “Both the crabs are capable of running back to safety, the distinction between the two types is not their physical capability but their mentality. Any individual crab from both tubs is capable of reaching the shore but do they? The clever crab is obstructed by the Fisherman and the other one by his own peers. What they have failed to understand is that everyone shares the same goal, the ocean is big enough for all of them to come back”.
My teacher who looked so despondent suddenly broke into the brightest smile we had seen on her. She then said, “A twig is easy to snap, however, a bunch of twigs tightly bound together with a string is impossible to even bend. Hence, if the clever crabs together, force open the lid then they might just be successful in running back home, and the other crabs need to build trust among them and channel that pulling down energy toward pushing each other out”.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
I was thoroughly convinced by this method, it made brilliant sense. So now I was looking at my peers confidently, I was sure that we all have understood that competition is about being successful at achieving what we set our eyes on, and we will require our friends to make it happen.
Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off. These words by Franklin D. Roosevelt were crystal clear now.
But it wasn’t working out like that. Despite us knowing it so well, we all competed with each other just the same, whether it was for a good score on a test or just our favourite teacher’s attention. It seemed as though we weren’t even trying to apply this lesson.
So my best friend and I approached our Teacher and complained that everyone is still competing in the way you said not to. We are still thinking that one must lose for the other to win. We haven’t really understood the lesson.
So she said, “People are, unfortunately, too distracted to pay attention to their actions. When we compete with one another, we forget that every individual has lived a different life. For instance, one loves swimming and the other drawing, would it be a fair competition between them in either activity?”
We replied in the negative since each has dedicated time as well as devotion to their favourite activity. So it is impossible that they can have an equal competition. One may learn how to draw well, but a Masterpiece is the work of practice as well as passion.
One may learn how to swim fast, however, the love for water cannot be learned for the sake of a competition. It is a romance that requires deep cultivation. “If this is so logical then how does our world fail to recognise it?” we complained.
“Because people like you and I complain to one another instead of helping our peers see that we are as different from them as they are from us in our ambitions; not in spirit but only in areas where we desire. We mustn’t become like sheep but honestly confide our dreams in one another. Help each other see that the world is full of different kinds of chocolate and our favourite is not the popular one but the one that makes us happy, and sharing this piece of chocolate with others only makes us happier”.
You can imagine gentle Reader that we were both feeling pretty pumped about this approach and were ready to go out there and make some friends. But my teacher stopped us and said, “First tell the truth, and to tell the truth, you must know it”.
She sweetly pointed out that we were just as distracted as everyone else. It was true, neither of us knew what our passions were; hence, it would be ridiculous for us to preach to the class our new found wisdom! We promised that we will soon know more about each other. We thought about it for days and discussed possibilities for us both, I could become a Botanist since I like to stare at trees and she could become a Geologist since she collected pebbles.
After a few days of reading the respective books, both our interest in trees and pebbles greatly declined. Then one day I decided that I could design wings that would make me fly and she could design a seating arrangement on me so she could fly with me too. You can imagine what happened to that genius idea. Let’s just say that we broke enough things to lose our privilege of devising such magnificent brilliance again.
And so went our trial and error for a few months and then this game was fun no more. So we forgot about it. Almost 12 years later, she reminded me of this time and I had still not figured it out, my only consolation was that she had kept her promise.
She had experimented with as many occupations as I and was happy with most. She felt useful and competent although she insisted that she wasn’t content. So one day, she decided to pursue her hobby which for a long time had been caring for her sister’s children. She now runs a nursery.
“A nanny!” I exclaimed. “I have always been”, she replied. I was ecstatic, suddenly the world opened up to so many possibilities. Aside from being an employee at a firm, I could also be a cleaner, a photographer or even a movie buff that likes to give funny reviews about movies one must never watch.
It took me 2 years to discover who I am, with a lot of contemplation and self-interrogation I could finally keep my promise to my friend.
What is my purpose? This question no longer haunts me. We are meant to do what we love; if we do it so well that it benefits our world then that is a success.