“One of the most pleasing aspects of our success is that we have convinced the humans to think of their ability to climb over each other in their quest for ‘success’ as a virtue…Competition is a glorious manifestation of the dynamism and genius of His Infernal Majesty…It is our guiding light, the Founding Principle of Hell.”
As One Devil To Another, by Richard Platt
Just a few questions on where we might be going wrong with some of our kids…
My eleven year old granddaughter, in her own words, is not a competitive person. She doesn’t like to compete. She doesn’t particularly care if she wins. She doesn’t strive to be top of the class or best at a volleyball serve or first place finisher on swim team. As parents and grandparents we tend to view that as a deficit in her behavior. A character flaw. Something that needs correcting. We need, it seems, to fix her.
Thus, we’ve been working on her.
We’ve been trying to instill competitiveness in her by convincing her that Competition makes the world go around. We’ve tried to make her see that the world is a really, really competitive place.
We compete for grades, for jobs, for mates, for money, for status. All life, we tell her, is competition. If you are not in Advanced or AP classes in school, you won’t get into the best colleges. You’ll be in the company of the bourgeoisie, the hoi polloi, the riff raff. Trouble will ensue. Success won’t be there for you. The good life will elude.
You must learn to be competitive, we insist. That is how you get ahead. That is what life is all about.
But is it? Is that really God’s plan for our lives? Are we meant to be competitive? Doesn’t He want us to do work that is worth doing and do it to the best of our abilities? Somewhere I got the crazy notion that He wants us to live in a world of cooperation and of service to one another. That, perhaps, we are supposed to view our work, our studies, our physical achievements as gifts from and to the one who gave us the abilities and the desires to strive in the first place. Are we to look for recognition from the world or from Him? (I don’t know where I come up with these hare-brained ideas. I honestly don’t.)
And yes, I understand that children have to actually do things; they can’t just sit on the couch and stare in a hypnotic trance at the brain-numbing light emanating from the television. Being involved in sports is a healthy alternative to slothdom. And they need to learn the importance of accomplishment. But how far do we take it? Where is the balance between Tiger Mom and Ne’er-do-well?
We seem at times to be saying that one must be academically competitive in order to “earn a living” rather than learning to be responsible citizens or to study the great stores of knowledge that have been passed down through the ages.
My daughter taught college for a year in China. The biggest obstacle to overcome in that collegiate environment, she found, was the lack of critical thinking and the inability of students to formulate a unique and independent thought. Many of her students, it seemed, were incapable of thinking outside the box. Over-achieving, competitive, successful students who couldn’t actually think. Who couldn’t formulate a thought on their own because they might show themselves to be less than Right, because they might make a slight mistake, because they might not be seen to be Number One.
It’s as if we’re saying to our kids, “Attain everything you can in the here and now, even though you won’t be able to take any of it with you into eternity.” Are there other more-lasting lessons that we should be instilling in them?
We convince them that their ability to climb over each other in their quest for success is a virtue. Survival of the fittest. Lord of the flies.
Are we teaching my granddaughter that life is a struggle rather than a gift? Are we teaching her that she must always be better than others, that she must struggle to be first and to win—whatever the cost? Are we telling her that life is War?
We’re no longer instilling in her the beauty of seeking Truth. No, we are now teaching her that the goal is Victory. Seek not the Truth; instead, seek the Win.
The truth is, my granddaughter doesn’t give a hoot about society’s approval. She wants her grandparents’ approval. She wants her parents’ approval. She is not competitive. She is sweet. She is loving. And she wants to be loved.
In our own confused state (that being the world and culture in which we inhabit), we think that we are offering tools to help our children survive in this dog-eat-dog world.
But maybe what we are doing is turning our children into dogs.
Am I wrong? Possibly.
…Just a thought.