Competition A state of mind | Sunday Observer

Competition A state of mind

1 November, 2020

Competition has become the way of life for most of the people in the world, especially in the context of fulfilling unlimited wants within limited resources. Parents and teachers train their children to compete in all kinds of different settings with the expectation of making them winners.

From the day one is born,he/she will have to compete against their siblings to get the attention of the parents and/or the caregiver. Even if there are no other siblings, a baby might have to compete against the TV and/or social media to get the undivided attention of the parents in the present milieu. One might even say that competitive nature is built into our instincts in order for us to survive and sustain life on this planet.

People sometimes try to distinguish between “healthy” and “unhealthy” competitions even though both may have sprung from the same mindset. Starting with the grade-five scholarship examination, children in Sri Lanka are brainwashed to be competitive in everything they do to be better than their peers. Parents, themselves having gone through a similar system, therefore, are competing against their siblings, peers and neighbors in their quest for pushing the children ahead of others.


Students in the A/L classes find it difficult to borrow a note from a fellow classmate, just to get a photocopy, if they missed the class one day due to an illness even. If one finds a good tuition class for a particular subject, one would never tell the others about it.

If one gets the chance to enter a university, then he would try to continue that practice with the intention of being the only first class in the batch so that one would increase the chance of being absorbed into an academic position by minimising the competition.

Others will compete against their batch-mates to find employment. Of course, these young adults will be competing against each other to find a partner for marriage even. Also, people compete against their co-workers to get promotions, increments and to be in the good books of their superior officers. Some people will be competing against their neighbors, friends and relatives to show that they have a better materialistic life than the others.

Some are competing to have the best profile picture in their social media accounts and/or to show off their vacation pictures indicating that they have had a better vacation than their friends.

Reality TV has become extremely popular among people who buy into such a competitive culture and therefore, perhaps the biggest money makers for the media companies. Sports teams will offer more and more money to recruit better players so that they can make their team win which in turn will increase the revenue of the owners of the team.

Majority of people in Sri Lanka consider driving on the road also as a competition. Therefore, one would always try to pass the others in front of him, would hardly adhere to road rules such as right-of-way.


Competition among individuals extends to entities, such as companies, products, trade organisations, schools, universities, temples, churches all the way to countries who would fight against each other to establish the superiority over a particular region and/or a certain commodity. We just experienced the beginning of one such competition between the USA and China trying to claim the ownership of land and resources of Sri Lanka.

Thousands of people die every year due to competitions between powerful countries trying to claim the dominance over less powerful countries. These deadly competitions usually are portrayed as fights between religious extremists and/or freedom fighters and oppressive governments with a backing of one or more super-powers on each side.

What we should understand is that it is the same kind of competitive mindset that drives an individual, an organisation or a country that is being led by similar thoughts. The competition never ends.

In this environment, the world has started to identify the need to produce“winners” through all the systems of education and training where competition is built into the system.

Usually, the evaluation procedures within these competitive systems identify “winners” and “losers”. Winners are rewarded for their achievements and the losers start developing inferiority complexes with other negative emotions as jealousy, hatred and anger.

As we all know, there can only be a handful of winners, if not just one, in each competition creating a larger group of losers with such negative emotions towards society. Needless to say, that these competitions, more often than not, fuel individualism, through which winning by any means can be justified in the competitor’s mind.

The irony is that after promoting a process of making selfish winners through our education system, the employers look for the skills of “team-work” at the job interviews. It certainly is no less funny than expecting goat-milk from a cow.

Spiritual development

One of the many factors which have been instrumental in bringing humanity to this point has been its educational methods and systems. Teaching and learning have almost entirely become materialistic and scientific without any focus on one’s spiritual development.

Like everything else in a transitional period, our educational systems are also in a state of flux. Even though there is a feeling that a lot has been done to raise the level of human awareness, world events taking place today certainly create a deep undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the results.

We teach our children that winning this game of education is to memorise an enormous array of facts, to assimilate a vast amount of details in a lot of different disciplines and reproduce them at their examinations according to a pre-determined format. We even have experienced situations where school teachers who were copying from each other during their postgraduate examinations.

Winning the competition has been the focus even among teachers irrespective of the process of getting there. One would wonder whether there can be any learning taking place within such a system. If at all one approaches life with a competitive mind then, it should be the competition between who one was and who he/she wants to be.

A Chinese proverb says that: Life is the most difficult examination. Many people fail because they try to copy others, not realising that everyone has a different question paper.

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic over twenty years in the USA and thirteen years in Sri Lanka and can be contacted [email protected]?