Monday, August 10, 2015

     According to the dictionary, to “compete” is to do something to gain superiority over another person. A “competition” usually results in a victor and a loser. 

    So why would I want to do something that would risk my feeling inferior or being labeled a loser? I don’t seek to be superior; I seek to fulfill my potential. I seek to be a “winner,” I prefer not to be a “loser.” 

     The world is full of competitors. Sometimes we don’t even realize how competitive some of our own friends are until we are in a situation that calls for competition. It has been said that if you want to know the true character of a person, play cards with him or travel with
him. I have done both, and I can honestly say that the competitive/superior trait surfaces quickly in both of these situations.

    I am not claiming not to be competitive, but I have struggled with the concept throughout my life, particularly in the sports arena. A friend? once said to me, “Boy, you sure aren’t a team player.” I was very hurt at this remark, but I discovered that he was right. I was never part of a team as a child. I played sports with my friends, but it was always for fun—no stakes. In high school, I was a choral singer where you had to blend, so there was no competition there. I also played the piano which was always a solo performance. What I didn’t realize until late into adulthood is that I don’t like competing unless I can’t see or hear my competitors. On the tennis court, if someone thinks I have screwed up and tells me, I get offended or angry. If you are my coach, correct me; if not, keep your opinion to yourself. I discovered that when my performance affects the success of someone else’s, in particular, a team, I am very uncomfortable. So, I don’t put myself in those situations anymore. Singles tennis is great. I screw up, I only have myself to deal with. No one else is hurt, and no one is bossing me around or passing judgment. 

     I have performed on stages all my life, but the competition was always with myself. If I was acting, it wasn’t about who was “best,” it was about how well the production came together. No actor criticized another; that was the director’s responsibility. I acted for years and loved it. When I played the piano in recitals, whether by myself or as part of a class of students, it was about the “best,” but although I may have been envious of the “best” pianist, I never got discouraged if someone else was better because there was not competition; we weren’t being compared to each other except in the minds of our parents. I was doing my best, and I could be proud knowing that. 

     As an adult public speaker and stage performer, I am definitely competitive, but again, I am always a soloist, so if I’ve done the best I can possibly do, I am happy. Have I lost a speech contest or two? Yes, I have, and I was disappointed, but no one lost because of me, except me. I am sure the judges had criticism, but in those competitions, the contestants never know why they’ve lost. In a way, that’s a shame, as it would help to know what we could have done better. On stage, when people listen to my piano music and my dramatic monologues, I’m sure there are those who would have critical comments, but there is no place for them to voice any, so I just assume the positive. 

     So, as I always asked my students “Quel en est le but?” What’s the point? The point is that we need to teach children how to compete in a healthy way, to accept criticism and to be able to sort out what’s true, what’s rude and what’s said in jealousy. We need to teach children to value the team but to focus on their own excellence rather than feeling that their participation, if not perfect, is not important or respected. Most importantly, parents need to explain to children that their performance is just that, a performance; it does not have to define them. I was taught that I am my performance—a slippery slope.