At a primary school assembly I was a bit taken aback when, in his preamble to announcing the team with the most house points for the week, the headmaster gently advised winning pupils to celebrate in their heads, rather than letting out an almighty cheer. I’m still not clear about the reasoning, but I guess it hinged on an intention to show respect for the runners-up. Fair enough, but whole school team efforts against other schools, are vigorously applauded. Even when the school team effort fails to make the top three, participants are told they were the best, the other schools just got lucky. There’s humour in the delivery, and I think most of the kids get that, but there’s also, potentially, a mixed message about the value of competition.
Let’s leave the Too Much, Too Soon Campaign – one of my hobby horses - aside for a while, and while we’re at it, let’s put pushy parents on hold, too. So much has already been said about them. Instead, shouldn't we be placing children on centre-stage, and fostering ideas around collaboration rather than competition? I read a really interesting piece recently, by the young writer, Chibundu Onuzo. She observes, “I am not yet halfway through my twenties, and already I am fatigued by the way the world is determined to frame my life. Someone always has more money, a better job, more vibrant social life, more attractive postcode. I am forever to be in competition with this ever elusive someone who is always a stride ahead, their shadow darkening my progress.” It saddens me to think that this is what's in store for my three grandchildren.
And it’s worth remembering that not only children suffer here. I see and hear evidence all the time confirming that many parents have already been sucked into the vying vortex. The problem is, so many of them confuse aggressive competiveness with keen aspiration. They are two different things, entirely. We all want to see our children and grandchildren realise and fulfil their potential, but surely not by viewing everyone as a deadly rival, and overlooking the possibility of a perfect working partnership.
I recall someone saying to me once, “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” Please don't tell me they were wrong.