On Competition

I started home-learning with my oldest daughter, Jasmine, this January and it’s difficult to express in words the sheer joy, delight and wonder, the growth and the revelations that take place every day in my home.  I can’t imagine things any other way.  It feels good; it feels natural; it feels right.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve come to realize that homeschooling or, rather, ‘facilitating my children’s learning’, is a lot like dog training:  it’s not the dog that needs to be trained but the handler that needs to be retrained!  Today I learned exactly where I stand on the subject of competitive events and competition in society in general.

Personally, I have always been uncomfortable with competition and certainly I never enjoyed participating in any kind of competitive endeavour when I was child but, before today, I hadn’t given it a great deal of thought.   On some level, my parents may have recognized the ugliness of competition.  Our house was the only one I knew possessed of a copy of the board game  “Community” wherein all players work together and share in the triumph of winning and wherein no one person alone suffers the humiliation of defeat.  (NB: this was small solace to me given the remainder of our games had clear winners and losers and I cannot, to this day, recall ever winning any game played against my brilliant {you’re welcome, David} but completely infuriating older brother.  Seriously, he always won and he still does.) But I digress…

Allow me to return to this morning and Jasmine and I playing “Crazy Eights” together:  Jasmine loses two hands in a row and thus commences a 45 minute session of tearful accusations and recriminations, including the not unfamiliar, “It’s not fair, Mommy, you ALWAYS win!”, followed by fresh tears, stomping of feet and slamming of doors.  Now please don’t think me callous in my recounting of this morning’s events, believe me, I understood how she felt (see note above about infuriating older brother).  It did, however, give me ample time to ponder the negativity of competition, how competition ensures there is always someone at the top and someone on the bottom.  I thought about how competitition is woven throughout the very fabric of our society, how it informs our world view and our everyday decisions and interactions.  I could not think of one game (aside from “Community”) that was not about ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.  I could think of few events structured around something other than competition.  I thought about how our society offers so much towards the development of strategic thinking for the conquest and defeat of others but very little in the way of strategic thinking towards the raising up of everyone together.  I thought about how we educate and challenge our children to give them a ‘competitive edge’, how we work hard to ensure they will be the ‘winners’ of  the oh-so-grand competition to ‘make it to the top’ of our society.

Is it absence of imagination that we cannot see the absolute necessity to move beyond the harmful, competitive paradigm by which we live?  A hierarchical society based on competition will, by definition, promote the most ruthless and unempathetic among us to the top.  And here we stand.

So what did today’s ‘homeschooling’ teach me?  That I need to create a home free from competition, a home where cooperation and collaboration are valued, a home where individuality is balanced by a desire for mutuality and mutually satisfying outcomes. This is a grand experiment for us and one we’re stumbling through, learning as we go.  By living a different paradigm, perhaps my children will develop the intellectual skills, the humanity and the emotional capacity necessary for them to envision and grow a better, kinder and more equitable society.  I hope so and I’m growing along with them.

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