sonder: Winners

You’re in a zombie apocalypse. The world is literally burning down. You and a bunch of other random people are out on the street looking for food. And all of you spot a lone packet of potato chips in an abandoned store at the same time. What goes through your mind? How fast do you run?

This is most probably the scene that most Indians picture in their heads when they think about anything in their daily lives. Decades of a shortage of resources and a surplus of its benefactors has irreversibly altered our thought process. In India, it’s a crime to not think obsessively about a certain outcome to the point where it becomes worthless to pursue an endeavour unless it involves competition of some sort. It’s worthless to learn something just because you wanted to know. It’s only worth learning if you can somehow apply it to a contest of some sort. It’s the reason why workshops and seminars don’t find much traction in India, simply because they are not themed around competition. But organise a contest, and people flock to you by the hundreds, regardless of its theme. I was at a contest once. My sister was a finalist. And during the finals, the other kid’s mother was a fierce mother wolf. I got the unmistakable feeling of impending beheading if I stepped within a 10 feet radius of the contest area. I don’t know if she thought I could use sibling telepathy to help my sister with the contest, but it did seem like it. And I made a mistake thinking the kid’s grandma had a personality to match her docile appearance. ‘Over protective mother bear’ does not do justice to the way she was eyeing me. You’d think this was an international wrestling match, but it was a city-level Scrabble contest for kids aged between 6 and 14. And if you tell me you’d have drama/ferocity/drive of this calibre at a Scrabble workshop in the zeal of absorbing as much knowledge as possible, either you’re not from India or in denial.

The general thought process goes something along the lines of if I attend this workshop/seminar, I’ll be just one of those people who bought a ticket and it doesn’t give me anything in return…but if I participate in this contest, I’ll be one of those people who could win. And when you don’t win you say it’s not about winning, it’s about participating. And then you go back home and curse yourself endlessly. Or your parents do it. The guilt drowns the analysis and the sportsman spirit. In the end, we’re the biggest bunch of hypocrites, and we’re not even deriving the best benefits of competing. Our concept of competition is way off the mark. All the focus we invest on the objective of winning flows through a one-dimensional channel. Focusing on the ultimate objective demands that you focus on analysing yourself, your competitors, all the possible outcomes of winning or not winning, how to amplify success, how to cushion failure; basically how not to be a sore loser and an immature prick. And we’ve never appreciated the benefits of non-competitive learning, the opportunity to soak it all in without the pressure of competing, the space that it provides to interact with experts and ruminate on what you’ve learnt. It’s a whole new experience, and one that has a lot to offer in terms of learning and growth.

Indians always equate achievement to competition. We always compartmentalize what it means to achieve according to what is most coveted at the moment, disregarding individual inclination and looking only through the spectrum of conventional choices. There is no room for diversifying knowledge or to redefine boundaries or to experiment. There is a reason why research is a shadow of what it should be in India. There is a reason why the education system still hinges on exams and ranks. There is a reason why career options are few. There is a reason why a nation so bent on winning does not produce real winners.

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