Competition Cancer

Some­one just sent a mes­sage to the TAGMAX list that real­ly hit me—I start­ed to write a reply and found that I could­n’t find much that’s pos­i­tive to say.

His son is obsessed with being “bet­ter than.” Instead of being hap­py about his accom­plish­ments, and rejoic­ing in the accom­plish­ments of those around him (like his sis­ter), he gets angry and needs to “beat” her in some sense. Rather than being hap­py with the fine vio­lin he has and plays very well, he’s angry because the piano his sis­ter plays is so much big­ger and costs more. It isn’t that he wants the piano—he wants her to not have it.

I see two oth­er boys—one grown now—in this father’s let­ter. I wish, so much, that I knew how to reach such a child, or what hap­pens to twist a per­son this way. I don’t, though. I was­n’t able to reach either of them, and I hon­est­ly can­not relate to them. They are shal­low and pride­ful and, hon­est­ly, incred­i­bly frag­ile. If anoth­er per­son­’s vic­to­ry has to mean your defeat, you have to con­stant­ly be on guard and push­ing high­er and high­er. You can­not be the best at every­thing. If you must be “the best” at any­thing, sta­tis­ti­cal­ly it is almost guar­an­teed that some­one in the world is actu­al­ly bet­ter at it than you are—so you can­not ever be happy.

We are not our abil­i­ties. We can­not base our self-esteem on things that are genet­ic acci­dents or hap­py results of our rear­ing. If that is all we are, then it’s hard­ly worth being proud of what was hand­ed to us, is it? We cer­tain­ly did­n’t do a damned thing to deserve or earn them. We did­n’t choose our ances­tors or the man­ner of our nurture.

What we do choose is our actions, our val­ues, how we use our abil­i­ties and advantages—or how we over­come any disadvantages.

The only com­peti­tor I acknowl­edge is me. If I can improve in some way, I win. Whether it’s learn­ing a new stitch, writ­ing a new essay, or singing a new song, I can be hap­py with what I’ve done. I can rejoice in oth­ers’ accom­plish­ments, admire them, enjoy them—and feel no need to dupli­cate or sur­pass them.

I can­not help but think that it is not pos­si­ble to love if you can­not rev­el in your loved one’s plea­sure. If you’re con­stant­ly com­pet­ing, you can­not love. In fact, I don’t think it’s pos­si­ble to love your­self in that kind of mindset.

I know that all three of the peo­ple I’ve seen with this sad out­look on life were told, con­stant­ly from a very young age, how very “gift­ed” they were. They were praised for their IQ test scores and, in two cas­es, were more high­ly prized by their par­ents than their “less­er” sib­lings (who might be gift­ed, but for what­ev­er rea­son weren’t cel­e­brat­ed by their par­ents in the same sense). In one, I know the issue was that the Gold­en Boy was a BOY, long-await­ed and val­ued above his sis­ters. In anoth­er case, the favored child is the eldest and has an emo­tion­al­ly inces­tu­ous rela­tion­ship with his moth­er, who lives through him. His gifts are more sim­i­lar to those of his moth­er than his sis­ter’s are, and there­fore he is more impor­tant to the mother.

I know that there is noth­ing inher­ent­ly dam­ag­ing about chil­dren know­ing that they are intel­li­gent and do well on cer­tain kinds of tests from an ear­ly age. It does­n’t auto­mat­i­cal­ly lead to com­pe­ti­tion can­cer. Is it being ranked high­er than sib­lings by par­ents? If a par­ent real­izes that it’s hap­pened, is there a way to repair the damage?

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
Posts created 4259

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top