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It’s Not a Competition    

It’s Not a Competition

Constant comparisons with other people – whether it be siblings, classmates or anyone else – is completely detrimental to the healthy development of our children...


Around seven years ago, I started attending a whole bunch of parenting courses, which gave me an awful lot of food for thought. It was before our plans to make aliya had solidified; and long before I really understood anything about emuna or thought very much about how G-d really wanted me to live my life.

The course was given by an expat Israeli who had had eight kids (an absolutely enormous family, by London standards) and a lot of common sense. A lot of what she said was straight out of the Torah, like: judge the deed, not the person. Or: always discipline from a place of love, and never from a place of anger.
It made a very big impression on me. But perhaps the thing that made the biggest impression of all was her class on competition. She had the guts to tell a group of modern orthodox over-achieving, ‘aspirational’ parents that competition was bad. All the constant comparisons with other people – whether it was siblings, classmates or anyone else – was completely detrimental to the healthy development of our children, because they were them, and they weren’t anyone else.
My goodness, how the class erupted into shouts and arguments. Most people simply couldn’t believe that competing with other people was a bad thing. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there!” they said. “How do you expect our children to make it in the outside world, if we don’t encourage them to be the best they can be?”
The teacher patiently explained that there is a time and place for competition, and that encouraging a 16 or 17 year old to do well in their exams is a world away from putting pressure on a three year old to read, already.
She also explained that parents were putting far too much emphasis on the outcome (which after all, is completely in Hashem’s hands) and far too little emphasis on the efforts their children were making.
It could be that Shlomo got 98% on his test with barely any effort; but the real kudos should go to Moshe, who studied very hard and only got a 65%. It could be that Ruth is naturally a maths genius – but Esther’s kind heart, and all the chesed she does at home and at school is no less deserving of notice and praise.
She made point after cogent point; but we were a tough audience to persuade. After all, we’d been brought up in our own lives to ‘compete’, to come top of the class, and to be a ‘success’. And it was extremely difficult to suddenly put that to one side, and realise that instead of helping us, it had actually been hindering us.
But I thought a great deal after that class, and Hashem showed me that the parenting woman was right: competition, and particularly competition between siblings, was poison.
Right away, I stopped all the stupid ‘competitions’ to see who could get  dressed faster in the morning, and made a big effort to not compare my children to each other, or anyone else.
But as time has gone on, and I’ve learned more about Torah and emuna, I’ve come to realise that all this unhealthy ‘competition’ has seeped into just about every facet of modern life.
We see it more clearly with our children, as they are our mirrors. We see all the pressure on them to do well, to be in the ‘right’ school, to be accomplished, to be pretty, to be well-behaved. And when they fail to ‘succeed’ we feel terrible – not so much for them, but for us, and what it means for our own success rating.
But the more I speak to Hashem, and the more my ego is being pushed aside, the more I’ve recognised the competition and comparisons in my own life. When you are ‘winning’, you feel great, smug, superior (and very far away from Hashem). When you are losing, you feel inferior, frustrated and miserable (and very far away from Hashem).
And it pops up everywhere, from physical appearance to cooking to careers. So many of us are continually looking over our shoulders to see how much we ‘rate’ compared to everyone else. Which is a great habit to have – if you want to be miserable, stressed and unfulfilled all your life.
Why are so many people ‘stuck’ in the rat race? Why do so many people run after things they can’t afford and don’t need? Why do so many people put all this needless pressure on themselves and their families to ‘fit’ a mould that simply isn’t suited to them?
Because they don’t appreciate that Hashem created each and every one of us; that each person is completely unique, with their own attributes, talents and challenges; and that everything any of us have is a gift from Hashem.
Once I realised that Hashem didn’t make me a ‘socialiser’, who’s happy chatting away to tens of people at once, I stopped feeling bad that I didn’t do ‘better’ at big social events.
Once I realised that Hashem didn’t give me the sort of temperament that could combine a career with being a mother, I stopped feeling bad that I wasn’t ‘supermum’ – and I gave away my business.
Once I realised that everyone has their ‘good point’ – even me – I started to make a real effort to search it out, and to try to look for it even in those people that society likes to dismiss as ‘losers’.
Each one of us has a G-d-given job to do down here, as Rabbi Brody explains in a number of his CDs, including ‘Path in Life’ and ‘Special Mission’. And for many of us, it’s got nothing to do with being a doctor, lawyer or accountant. Or owning a big house in the Five Towns. Or earning six figure incomes.
It’s got everything to do with getting closer to Hashem, and trying to bring others nearer to the Source of All Good. It’s got everything to do with working on ourselves, and trying to refine our own middot and character traits. It’s got everything to do with developing some humility, and asking Hashem to show us what He’d like to do with our lives, instead of demanding that He gives us this or that.
You still want to compete? Fine! Compete with yourself. Compare where you are now to where you where this time last year. How much more hitbodedut are you managing to do, with Hashem’s help? How much easier are you finding it to be patient with your spouse, and to keep your temper with your kids? How much more emuna do you have, how quickly do you bounce back from situations that used to knock you completely flat for days and even weeks?
That’s the only competition and comparison that’s worthwhile. Everything else is pointless, and a waste of life. It could be that you feel that it’s simply too hard to change such an ingrained habit at this point in your life. But my parenting woman made a very good point: you might not love yourself enough to make the effort to change, but you for sure love your kids enough to do it.
Hashem can do anything; chat to Him for even just a few minutes a day, and ask Him to help you stop competing and comparing. It’s only when we stop running after everyone else, and start to run only towards Hashem, that we start to understand what ‘real success’ really feels like.

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  1 Talkbacks for this article    See all talkbacks  
  great article
nava10/17/2010 10:39:42 PM

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