What grew in me without my knowing, what crept stealthily into my burgeoning little boy’s identity and went unrecognized for years, was a keen sense of competition. The expectation, need, and desire to be the best was administered in tiny doses without their knowing by family, friends, acquaintances, and teachers. The best reader, the best speller, the best runner, the best at throwing or kicking a ball — the process started simply and innocently enough, but with each passing year its grip tightened and its reach expanded to include the need to be right in all matters, and to prove it whenever that need was challenged. Had I been the only one so afflicted, if competition had not been so widely cultivated and assumed, I might have been considered a freak. Instead, I was encouraged. The best baseball player. The best basketball player. The best of the best at being the best, and always right in all questions of judgment — the best music group, the best candidate for president — there was no end to it — all the while, as I said, without my knowing or recognizing I had contracted a dangerous societal disease, ultimately characterized by the blind view that if everyone is sick, no one is sick, if everyone wants war, then war is right, if everyone hates, hatred is not only right, but completely natural. The best hamburger, the best pesticide, the best industry, the best rape of the environment, the best country, the best prejudice. Compare, compete, win, and move on — to the point that now, I think it a miracle that I ever saw my way clear. For it’s been years that I’ve felt no sense of competition at all, no need to be right, no need to prove myself. I don’t know how it happened, other than through a gradual process of observation, loss, and physical and mental pain; through grief, weariness, and a diminishing sex drive; through pity and compassion; through reading; through helping take care of my mother; through financial hard times; through what I used to see as ongoing failure to achieve what I thought I should in terms of financially successful publication; and, I’m sure, through countless other details, some of which I was aware, and some of which I wasn’t. In other words, through good fortune and life’s experiences, which, as common as they were, were unique to myself. Scars and all, however it came about, I’m thankful.
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Tags: Child and Man, Childhood, Comparison, Compassion, Competition, Experience, Friends, Good Fortune, Gratitude, Grief, Hate, Identity, Life, Miracles, My Mother, Observation, Pain, Reading, Scars, Society, Teachers, War