Goshen News, Goshen, IN


May 21, 2013

WHOLE FAMILY: I guess if someone has to be last, why not me?


They do play chess — several first-place trophies lining the shelves — which is, for sure, a direct competition of skill and talent. But I was happy to hear at a recent chess tourney my 9-year-old son offered his opponent the opportunity to correct a fatal move the other boy had made.

“I was going to win anyway, Mom,” he said, “but it didn’t seem right to win like that. Plus, then he would learn about that move and never make the mistake again.”

It was sort-of a gentlemanly way to triumph over another, I guess.

WHEN IT COMES TO THE QUESTION, “Is the human drive to compare and compete ‘nature,’ or is it ‘nurture?’” anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists — all kinds of other scholars — debate intelligently and persuasively on both sides.

(I realize I’ve been intermingling “compare” and “compete” here, and there is a difference. Seems, though, that when we compare, we humans then are compelled to compete.)

Some say competition is obviously innate just by the way we’re conceived. Did you know only one in MILLIONS of sperm will penetrate an egg to fertilize it? Millions race toward the ovum; only one wins.

Others say we are enculturated to compete, being constantly compared and contrasted with others around us while vying for ways to out-think, out-smart and out-maneuver others.

That’s not hard to believe, either. From the time our babies are born we’re plotting them on charts and testing them for this and that to see how they compare. Then we do everything we know to help them to climb to the top of any given playground pile. Waiting lists for preschool? Lessons, lessons, lessons when they’re barely walking?

THE DEBATE ABOUT COMPETITION becomes something like this: Is there a “healthy” level or kind of competition? Is it all bad? Is it a great motivator for success and thus a good thing?

Boy, I don’t know exactly.

In general, I prefer to be part of endeavors that encourage others to be their best — not ones that encourage me to prove myself better than them. It’s almost as much fun seeing someone else succeed as it is succeeding myself.

Yet comparison and maybe a little chiding — “Let’s see who does this better …” — do prove to be motivating. At the gym, where my numbers are often lowest of many, I find I do better if I’m working to keep up with the guy or gal next to me. I don’t care about being top dog, per se, but I like to push myself to at least stay among the pack.

As for being last? Well, someone has to be. And if I am that someone, so what? Being last can be a motivator, too. After I failed to remain tear-free after that “65,” I visited my microbiology instructor and asked, “What do I need to do?” She assured me I was smart enough — just needed to learn how to study science.

I took her advice and completed that class with a solid “A,” turning my LAST into a FIRST for me. I don’t know how I fared against other students in the class, and it really doesn’t matter. But that “A” after at first failing was a personal record, as they say at the gym.

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”

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