THE CURSE OF COMPETITION

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A Personal, Historical Contrast of the Cultural Eras of Unity School Agbarho( USA) and Government College Ughelli (GCU) between 1984 – 1990
by Frank Tietie

There is a natural feeling of not being satisfied about what one has or what one is as a person unless one feels that one is better than someone else. And the moment one feels another is better, that sense of self-inadequacy returns.

Striving to be the best, the most powerful, the richest and many more have ruined many social relationships. This strange measurement of a sense of self-esteem or worth is natural and ingrained in us from childhood, especially by the systems of education adopted by some schools and governments.

Striving to be better than someone else and to ultimately become the best in any group or area of human endeavour starts first as an innocuous exercise that is described as healthy competition until the vestiges of jealousy, envy and secret hatred creep in with morbid thoughts of harm and misfortune being wished for perceived rivals.

The above scenario of a healthy competition descending into an unhealthy competition starts probably, especially, throughout the primary and secondary schooling years and moves on to the realm of the workplace, business, politics, sports, the professions etc.

The sense of self-esteem that stems from competition has created many-sided superficial circle of friends who really don't wish themselves well yet continue to bond together to show off and be driven by that natural sense of competition.

Competition has become a second nature to so many us that if it is taken away, many of us will be drained of pure motivation to carry on  with the many things we are currently doing.

Recalling as a teenager,  I know the difference between living in the two environments of where self-esteem is based either on competition or appreciation, leading to cooperation.

I had the privilege, by providence, of attending two top rate secondary schools in then Bendel State between 1984 and 1990. It was during that period I experienced the difference, as a matter of fact, between an environment of competition and that of appreciation or cooperation.

As a student in Unity School Agbarho in the mid 80s, one had to come top three academically to be reckoned with by the school authorities. To make matters worse, it was a co-educational school so the boys also competed to please the girls and may be the girls did the same in attempts to look good. I recall one of the most beautiful girls then, even used make ups when we were in class one as twelve year olds.

The competitive culture in Unity School Agbarho set a course of incipient rivalry among some students who strove for the heights and many years after, I mean decades after, those students as adults are yet to shake off that competitive culture and to date, still exhibit such tendencies in their interpersonal relations, even in close relationships like marriages where the spirit of competition drives and determines the quality of the relationship.

On the contrary, when I transferred to Government College Ughelli, it was a different experience.

First, I noticed that it was very difficult to gain admission into the school. For transfer students like me, it was nearly an impossibility. But for the united intervention of my mother's friends in the Anglican Church in Ughelli, talking about the likes of  Mrs Dioru, Mr & Mrs Okoronkwo, Mrs Justina Oghifo, and Mr Edamdide, I wouldn't have been admitted into Government College Ughelli as a transfer student.

This band of Cecelia Tietie's friends, many of whose memories will ever remain blessed in my 💓 heart, resolved among themselves that I could not leave Unity School Agbarho and attended any other school in Ughelli other than Government College Ughelli. So they found a way to plead with the then Rev. Canon Eferakeya to prevail on the school principal, D.M. Siakpere, to ensure that I was admitted into Government College Ughelli and so it happened. It was also this same  band of Anglican church family friends in Ughelli, including one Itomre who gathered from their pockets and even borrowed for me to pay both the admission fee and school fees when the admission finally came through. With tears as I write this, I recall that things were pretty rough and tough for my mother at the time she left Agbarho for Ughelli. Therefore God will continually bless the memories of those friends of hers who stood by her and no one should bother to wonder at my decision to do charity work with my legal practice.

Once admitted into Government College Ughelli, a single sex school, I was amazed at the natural camaraderie among the boys. I was instantly accepted as if I had been with them from the beginning. Class interactions were mutually enhancing and I noticed every student had a peculiar sense of confidence and self worth.

I later discovered that less emphasis was placed in academic competition. There were no 1st, 2nd or 3rd positions. Results were done with letter grades from 'A' to 'E'. A student just needed to pass Mathematics and English with any other 3 subjects to get promoted to the next class. Also the school principal and form masters paid particular attention to students who had skills in sports, music and anything of distinction. For example, any student who was either a good footballer or athlete just somehow got promoted. Their skills were counted for them

I was taught competition in Unity School Agbarho.  and was privileged to learn cooperation and unqualified acceptance at Government College Ughelli.

Today, after more than 30 years, I know the difference in relating with my class mates from both schools. No doubt, there is a greater sense of comradeship among the Ughelli boys. It seems to me that a deliberate outcome was intended by the administrators of Government College Ughelli by removing the sense of competition in course of training the boys.

There is no one human being that is better than the other. We are just different and are suited differently for different purposes. May we therefore develop love and respect for one another's purposes in life. Even the Bible declares that they who compare themselves with one another are not wise.

There is no need to feel better just because you think you are better than someone else. In order to continually have this feeling on superiority, many people have gone to the extent of wishing others evil and harm so they, themselves would appear better or superior in their own eyes and that of the world. This prevalent but highly destructive human nature starts with a spirit of competition and it is a curse.

A school system that thrives on the warped spirit of competition will breed covert enmity among family, friends, associates and the society in general. A recent Facebook video of Sadguru made this point so clearly.

Let us discard the spirit of competition and embrace cooperation. Interpersonal relations will become better while individual and group conflicts will be reduced when we begin to imbibe the principles and culture of cooperation.

Frank Tietie
Writing from Asokoro, Abuja

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