A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.
The Lie of Competition
The lie of competition is that it somehow makes us better people, stronger, tougher, more successful. Can it do those things? I am a very competitive person. My heart races, my pulse throbs, my brain is going a million miles a minute – I definitely do not like losing. Is that a good thing? Culturally, in the USA in particular, yes. Interestingly, it seems that authoritarian countries are particularly interested in winning, to show how their form of government is the best, to somehow have bragging rights over other nations. In the USA, there are street parties and loud celebrations and lots of drinking and media interviews. Let’s look at an alternative approach to winning.
The Pyeonchang Winter Olympics were a fascinating set of competitions. The stupendous winner by far was Norway: “Surpassing its own lofty expectations, Norway has delivered the greatest performance in the history of the Winter Games, winning a total of 39 medals, 14 of them gold. A nation of only five million people has crushed all comers, including sports behemoths like Germany and the United States, in the events Norwegians care about the most.” (New York Times February 24th, 2018). Interesting language – ‘crushed’. Pertinent to this conversation is their reaction to their success – they aren’t sure it’s a good thing!! The same article goes on to say: “Marit Bjorgen, after winning bronze said: “Of course we were fighting for gold,” she said. “But it’s great to see the U.S. on the podium. It’s important for the sport.” Could we imagine a US athlete saying that? Or think of the following action Norway took: It has conceived the Alpine athletics version of the Marshall Plan. For seven years, it has invited competitors from all over the world to visit for a weeklong training camp. A separate camp is offered to World Cup coaches. Attendees pay to get there, and Norway covers all other expenses. “We show them what works for us,” said Erik Roste, president of the Norwegian Ski Federation. Of course, this is also the country that “placed a camera on the front of a boat called the MS Nordnorge and ran live footage for 134 hours of nothing but nature, quietly passing by. Half of the country tuned in.”
This is not to say that Norway is good and we are bad, or that we should all become Norwegians. They do give us pause however. What do we believe about competition? That it builds character and fosters excellence? That healthy competition is a good thing? That the person who is not “competitive” lacks moral fibre or some other attribute?
I am not competent to judge what the word competition means in other venues. I think the greatest athletes have actually moved beyond the idea of competition. Simone Biles, the great gymnast with five Olympic medals to her name, said: “A successful competition for me is always going out there and putting 100 percent into whatever I’m doing. It’s not always winning. People, I think, mistake that it’s just winning. Sometimes it could be, but for me, it’s hitting the best sets I can, gaining confidence, and having a good time and having fun.”
I believe I do have some competence when it comes to education and in our schools, competition is a big problem. Let’s think about the ways in which that is so:
The Christian school has to take a different way. I think the Christian school has to become a revolution. St. Paul writes: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). In the Christian school, all children are winners, all children are created in the unique image of God, all children can run to get the prize. The Christian school has no bell curves, no club sports, no regular practices or rehearsals that take the child away from the family dinner table, no ignoring of the Sabbath. The paradox will be that we will become more attractive and win even more championships because, as Jackson Scholz said to Eric Liddell, “for those who honor me, I will honor” (1 Samuel 2:30). And our children will be grateful.
“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).