I go to a college preparatory high school- the kind where we begin to talk about college by sophomore year, and begin building our applications to ensure our chances of being admitted to the best college possible. Even since 7th grade, our curriculum has been centered around competition, through sports, academic contests, and grades.
As a high school student, you would think that success is exclusive; that you can only achieve happiness by competing. Being the best is the sole motivation for so many people in my life, including me. I am one of the most competitive people I know, from the soccer field to math class to spewing random facts to prove my intelligence.
I hate it. I hate the culture of high school that makes children pit themselves against one another, believing that happiness only comes to those who win. We are taught that the purpose of life is to go to the best colleges, get the best job, and make the most money. Love and peace take the back seat in the eyes of the education system. No wonder the priorities of teenagers around the country are so out of wack.
Let’s look at evolution, because that tends to be convincing to many people in today’s world. The prevailing belief of humans is that we took over the world because of our competitive edge; we crushed our opposition and battled our way tooth-and-claw into the world spotlight. But the truth is, we weren’t the strongest, fastest, or smartest animals on the prarie in the beginning. We were awkward, hairy, bipedal creatures whose chances of survival seemed slim.
So how did we get here? Through cooperation and social order. Humans are more innately social than nearly all other animals, and our social connections are deeper. Humans developed an intense capacity for love for their offspring, mates, and fellow homo sapiens. We did not abandon each other, and instead learned the skill of empathy. By sticking at each other’s sides, we were able to evolve together as a species, with each person working towards the common goal of survival. We are truly the most selfless of creatures, thanks to our profound capacity for love.
But this is virtually unknown to my generation. My generation is focused on personal gain, on competing for greatness. We are evolving away from the empathy that made our species so special, and it scares me. Just the other day I was talking to a boy in my grade who I’ve previously discussed, and he said the point of his life was to beat everyone else and make as much money as possible. I have never been sadder talking to him in my life.
Where did our value for love and kindness go? I know deep down that we are all good people, but we are losing touch with our innate connection to each other. Kids my age don’t seem to understand that we are all the same at heart, all part of a universal condition and energy. We are isolated beings who refuse to share our emotions with each other, simply afraid of being second-best. The fault lies on our competitive education system.
Schools and teachers need to move away from our culture of competition and isolation. High school is supposed to prepare kids for life. Why aren’t we teaching kids social skills, love, and kindness? Why aren’t we teaching kids that empathy and cooperation will get us far in life? That’s the way the real world works- no one wants a colleague of business partner who simply wants to outshine everyone. They want a partner, someone who wants mutual benefits. We need, then, to learn about the beauty of mutual growth in school. Students need to be prepared for life, not misled into believing it is a competition.
At the end of the day, people want to be loved, accepted, and find meaning in life. We can’t achieve this by pitting ourselves against one another. We must learn to come together.
So how does this affect you? Well, I suppose that next time you feel the need to beat everyone around you, remember: we are creatures of cooperation, not competition. The goal is not to win, but to find love. I think we all lose sight of this at times, but must come back to our central tendency towards connection. If you work with children, please, PLEASE, teach them the importance of sympathy. It is a lesson they may not learn until they have already hurt themselves and others. We need to reteach the world that competition isn’t the only thing out there, and perhaps you can help take the first step. I know I will try, for the happiness of myself and others. At the end of my life, I want to look back and think not “I was successful, the best, and made money”, but “I was happy, the kindest, and found love and connection with other humans”.
Here’s to hoping you do, too.