Last Sunday, they were organizing some competitions at the local church. The organizer’s voice, loud and enthusiastic, assaulted my eardrums. I did not want to hear a word, but he was using a mike and sounded quite aggressive. As a result, I was forced to hear the following words:
“Our children are all talented. Unfortunately, not many children have participated in the competitions this year. Children, you should not think about winning. Winning is not important. Participating in competitions is important. You must participate in large numbers. You see, we can hold competitions only if you participate in large numbers.”
I sighed wearily.
Throughout my four and a half years in a nauseatingly competitive atmosphere, I have heard the above ideas several times, expressed in different ways.
I remember overhearing a father enthusiastically telling a group of other fathers: “I want my daughter to participate in all the competitions they hold here. I don’t care about winning. Winning is not in our hands. But she should participate.”
I remember telling my son: “Look here, my pet, you should participate. We don’t care about winning. But participation is important. You should participate in all the competitions your school conducts.”
Today, I am an older, wiser, and rebellious parent.
Today, you just have to say the word “competition” to me, and I will puke.
Today, I tell my son: “Listen baby, your school in particular and the world in general will try to force many things down your throat. You don’t have to swallow it all.”
Now, let me take up three of these ideas:
All children are talented.
Well, children are children. I wouldn’t give them any adjectives.
They are children and they have a long way to go before they can become anything worthwhile.
As for talents, I don’t think much of them.
You may have a ton of talents and end up as useless as a pile of soot. Or you may have not a single talent and end up as one of the most successful people on earth.
It works like this:
- You get passionate about something and spend hours on that something. You hone your skills, increase your knowledge, and move towards perfection, a step at a time.
- Your passion becomes your life and your work gets noticed.
- As a child in school, you may win a few competitions related to your passion. Or you may pass your Class X without attracting the attention of your teachers.
- You also enjoy a little bit of luck. You meet the right people on the way and you live in extremely favorable circumstances.
- You start getting more fans. People shower you with praise. You become famous. You even win a few awards.
- You are now great.
- If you live in a country like India, someone may get the bright idea of building a temple in your honor. So, now you become a god.
And now for idea number two …
Children, you should not think of winning.
Ah, that’s exactly what organizers of competitions want a majority of the participants to do. They do not want participants to think of winning.
Participants love this idea because none of them want to admit that they are hungry for the first prize, the trophy, or the certificate.
Participants are also scared of the possibility of not winning and so they tell themselves right at the beginning that they are not here for the prize, but for the “love of participation.”
Most participants are not the fiercely competitive types, so they love hiding behind these lofty thoughts.
Organizers of competitions are fine with this because they have only three carrots to offer—the First Prize, the Second Prize, and the Third Prize. They wouldn’t know what to do if everybody got fiercely competitive, gave their best, and angrily demanded to know what went wrong with their performance and why they were not awarded the prize.
And so they say, “Children, you should not think of winning.”
The simple truth is that you SHOULD think of winning because it is a damn competition. If you must compete, compete to win or not at all. Do your best and give your best. Show no mercy to your opponents and the organizers of the competition. And if you don’t get the carrot, demand to know exactly where you lost points and why you lost points.
Of course, organizers of competitions protect themselves with rules such as “judge’s decision is final.” But you can still inform them politely that winning is very important to you and urge them to give you tips that will help you win the next competition. The organizers will remember you and the headache you gave them and will definitely reserve a carrot for you the next time you turn up.
After all, psssst, everybody knows that it is not the “judge’s decision,” but the “organizer’s decision” that is final.
And here comes the funniest of them all.
Participating in competitions is important. Winning is not important.
Oh really? If winning is not important, why do you give so much importance to the winners and none at all to the participants?
Let me take you to a prize distribution ceremony I attended a few years ago. I want you to listen to the teacher who is announcing the names of the prize winners.
Teacher: MUNNA NO. 1. WINNER OF COMPETITION A, COMPETITION B, COMPETITION C, COMPETITION D, COMPETITION E… and COMPETITION Z. WINNER OF 26 COMPETITIONS IN ALL!!!
The teacher’s voice is like a bomb blast. As Munna No. 1 struts on the stage to receive his pile of trophies, the audience of parents bursts with applause. The plaster flies from the ceiling and the very foundation of the hall shakes. Munna No. 1’s parents, relatives, friends, and fans swoon with joy.
Teacher: Munna No. 2! Winner of Competitions A, D, M, X, and Z.
Did you notice the volume of the teacher’s voice reduce considerably? Why this lack of enthusiasm while announcing the name of Munna No. 2? After all, winning is not important, participation is important. Munna No. 2 has participated in all 26 competitions although he has won only five. So why are the claps half-hearted?
Teacher: Munna No. 3! Winner of Competitions B and C.
Ah, now the teacher definitely sounds as if she has missed her meals. The assembled parents are not even looking at the stage. You can just hear a stray clap or two.
And so the teacher continues to read the names, losing interest with every name. Many of the parents decide that this is a good time to visit the toilet. Those who stay back start checking their Whatsapp messages.
Teacher: Munna No. 20! Consolation prize for Competition Z.
The teacher is definitely sighing now. A few parents lazily tap their knees to make it appear as if they are clapping.
Well, that doesn’t look like “participation is important” to me. The prize distribution ceremony—all prize distribution ceremonies for that matter—focus on winners and winners alone, not participants.
So, let’s just get real. Winning is important and winners do impress. Everybody respects a winner even if he/she is the world’s biggest asshole. Everybody thinks that the winner knows it all—that is till he/she fails to win the next competition. And so, yes, it is ultimately winning, and winning the first prize, that really matters.