Even since primary school, our curriculum has been centered around competition, through sports, academic contests, and grades.
As a student in Singapore society, you would think that success is exclusive; that you can only achieve happiness by competing. I am not criticising the system, in fact we have one of the most well structured educational system in the world.
However, everything is questionable and we are not going to deny its flaws. It seems that being the best is the sole motivation for so many students in my life, including me. I am one of the most competitive people I know, from the running track, the sports field, the stage and to the classroom.
I hate it. I hate the culture of schools 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.
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 homosapiens.
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 specie, 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, perhaps its coupled with the after effects of generation X. Our generation is focused on personal gain, on competing for greatness. We are evolving away from the empathy that made our specie so special, and it scares me.
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. 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, its the best secret- 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 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.
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 love. I think we all lose sight of this at times, but we must always come back to our central tendency towards connection.
If you work with children, or if I ever will since I’ve been seriously seriously thinking about it, please teach them the importance of sympathy and empathy. It is a lesson they may not learn until they have already hurt themselves 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.