Friday, June 15, 2012

Compete... For what and from when!

It's graduation season. Everyone everywhere is toasting academic success. Gowns, caps, tassels, degree scrolls - the works! Proud parents, husbands, wives, girlfriends, in-laws, the occasional outlaw as well, posing in happy pictures. And in the midst of all this, the mind does sometimes hark back to the effort that has gone into the moment that is today.

Life as a student, they say, is the best part of life as a whole. No worries, no concerns about unpaid bills, mortgages, well, assuming you don't sign up for a super expensive MBA program just after you buy a house! At least till grad school, life is cool. Wow! That actually rhymed! The younger years at school, where the biggest concerns are who plays in what team, who is friends with who, who is being gossiped about and all such simple, innocuous stuff. Well, seems innocuous now, but was a matter of life and death at age 9 and most definitely at age 14!

And then somewhere, the laws of economics started to kick in. Too many kids, too few seats in the universities. So, by simple laws of supply and demand, prices people paid started going up. And the whole institution called competition came in. Is that a good thing? Well , being a proponent of capitalism and the survival of the fittest, I personally feel competition is a good thing. Life is never fair, there is always more demand than supply. There are always more vacation ideas than vacation days available! So competition is a reality in the real world. So why not at school? But there is a flipside as well! We all learnt cardinals and ordinals in grade 1. Certainly not expecting an ordinal against our own names. Alice- first, Bianca - second and so on. And competition at an early age, somehow manages, in my opinion, to jade peoples' perception of others! So, if at age 11, I compete with someone to come first in academics and I happen to lose the race, unfortunately for me, the bitterness of losing makes me bitter towards she who made me lose! And I, for one, have noticed that the baggage stays for a loooooooooong time. The competition for half a point in math. The hushed discussion of who got how much n which subject, the insane strategies of how much more than her I need to get in Math, in order to make up for the marks she got more than me in English. It all stays for a looooong time. 

It is particularly heart rending to observe.competition being thrust upon kids at age 6. I had the unenviable opportunity to observe this. No doubt, I've been part of the rat race myself and somehow managed to come out the way I am, but watching it now as an outsider, knowing now what I wish I had known before, simply imagining the psychological processing seemed rather painful to me, Imagine this situation. It's a class of a handful of 6 year olds. Mostly the only child in a family, or a younger child with older siblings, which in turn implies, that they are the apples of several eyes, God's gift, literally to a  whole bunch of people, for sure. These kids sit together in an assembly and 3 or 4 of them are called up on stage in front of the assembly, which also consists of parents, teachers, other classmates, and these kids are given a certificate for outstanding achievement. Well, good for those 3 or 4 kids. But what about the rest? Some faces clouded over. Some turned grim. Some drooped. And these are 6 year olds getting a first taste of the absolute ruthlessness of life! I still remember putting my hand out to high five the kids I knew who got a certificate as the kids were filing out of the hall, and one child who hadn't received a certificate also came enthusiastically for a high five. And all the other kids followed suit. Which is when it struck me, that these kids are still too immature and young to understand what first and fourth are and that a ranking system is the only place where 4>1 doesn't hold true. 

And that was when my mind went back to a conversation I once had with an old school friend. We had bumped into each other on a bus, and I was meeting her almost 8 years after graduating from school. After talking about all that had happened, how she had done well for herself, how she felt that I had done well for myself, and so on, we went back to old times, when she said to me, " Sindhu, don't you feel how absolutely frivolous our feud over a half and a quarter mark in the lower grades used to be? Eventually it all levels out, doesn't it?" And I said," yes it does." However, would I have said the same had she been doing much better than I was in life? Maybe yes, maybe..... I don't know!

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