Competition is no longer a healthy word. It has got sand kicked in its face by empathy warriors and the woke brigade. In its place is idealistic equality, a level playing field and the deliberate absence of a marking system. Here, it is presumed, sunny and positive art will be made.
The staple dialogue of all good heroes in old Hindi films has disappeared: ‘Mein first class first aaya hoon, ma!’ Taking over the earnest tycoon stereotype leading man is the illiterate simpleton who makes his way through life with mere witticisms, and per chance marrying the tycoon’s daughter. From entire eras of investing heavily in victory – when wars were won and crowns snatched – we are now reaching a corporate ladder that is placed sideways, going neither up nor down, but lateral. Only parallel paths allowed.
With all the other new-age humiliations chasing after past virtues, and with cancel culture whimsical about whom it nullifies when and where, this slow and deliberate abolishing of the killer instinct almost goes unnoticed. Of course, the burnt-out lot want rest. They breathe in through their left nostril and breathe out through their right nostril. With trembling anxiety, they switch off their phones and learn not to twitch. Peace perhaps is in danger of being oversold. Because without that restlessness and sly watching of others’ work, who can sit and create in a silo? The subterranean need to excel, to be better, to go the distance itself may be buried under the social beatification of brotherhood.
In his book Happiness in Action: A Philosopher’s Guide to the Good Life, Adam Adatto Sandel says: ‘At first glance it might seem as though friendship and competition are diametrically opposed. Competition, we assume, aims at victory and domination. Friendship, by contrast, aims at mutual support. At best, we often think, competition is a healthy version of unfriendliness.’ He goes on to add: ‘Competition in its highest form is not about mutual destruction but joint cultivation.’ He gives the example of Muhammad Ali, how the boxer decided to ‘make an art out of’ what until then had been a crude and bloody sport.
School races and report cards are right not to fete the victor, to celebrate the topper. But the primal instinct to excel demands yardsticks, benchmarks, examples set and an atmosphere of joyous synchronized vying. Instead of ‘no one is a winner here’, we could focus on ‘no one is a loser ever’. Winning is treason only when losing sets the bar.
Differences have come up for bad press again and again, lumped under a blanket negativity. But under another PR machinery, the same differences might make for healthy competition, for teamwork and bridging of gaps. A bit of friction, be it in a marriage or workplace, makes for lively debate and discussion. What will remain for posterity: smiling hand in hand or art culled from heartbreak and raw human emotions?The world can be a better place without elimination of healthy rivalry. Contests, competitions, conflicts keep us on our toes. Imagine a world with no eye roll, no angry shrug, no raised voices! How chill, how dull.