THE MYTHS OF COMPETITION AND POPULARITY IN THE U.S

by francisallenby

Competition and popularity: two terms that have always represented the U.S. society. But maybe the urge to emerge at any cost has been overestimated to some extreme point.

It was September 9, 2001, when I posted a discussion topic on a U.S. forum. I considered it an interesting topic, and it seemed to me the right time to talk about it: the anxiety to excel in everything in life: something which has always typified the U.S. society. I spoke, generally, about the agonistic spirit, about competitiveness which, since primary school, but even earlier, is inculcated in the minds of the young nephews and nieces of Uncle Sam.
I pointed out that a society cannot base all its principles on the obstinacy to emerge, to stand out at any cost and that, although in the beginning this approach can be positive, in the long term it can become highly harmful.

THE MYTHS OF COMPETITION AND POPULARITY IN THE U.S.

It was September 9, 2001, when I posted a discussion topic on a U.S. forum. I considered it an interesting topic, and it seemed to me the right time to talk about it: the anxiety to excel in everything in life: something which has always typified the U.S. society.
I remember I did not use harsh tones or anything that might be considered particularly offensive: I knew I was only a guest from abroad, hosted by courtesy of the masters of the house; after all I only had to point out something that appeared to be too insistent in the nature of North Americans, and which has characterized them for a long time.
I spoke, generally, about the agonistic spirit, about competitiveness which, since primary school, but even earlier, is inculcated in the minds of the young nephews and nieces of Uncle Sam.
I pointed out that a society cannot base all its principles on the obstinacy to emerge, to stand out at any cost and that, although in the beginning this approach can be positive, in the long term it can become highly harmful.
At that time I did not speak (and certainly it was a good choice) about the cruel massacre which occurred only two years before, committed by two students at Columbine High School, precisely on April 20, 1999.
Previously there had been only the Bath School disaster, in 1927: but at the Bath School there was not a student as the sole creator and performer of the butchery: there was only a deranged adult, a man operating within the school, who thought he had been damaged by its system of taxation.
The massacre at Columbine High School (paradoxically the one with the minor number of victims, and yet the most remembered) was followed by that at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 2007, and that at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012: both of them were the actions of individual students.
The day after I posted that topic of discussion on the forum I got a reply from a gentleman, a very kind person: he simply highlighted that acting that way was, as to them, just part of the normal order of life: if you want things, all things, to work, then you have to make sure, personally, to have done your own full duty. And doing your own full duty means to achieve the maximum efficiency: is this wrong? Absolutely not. If the whole mankind would behave the same, then the world could be a better place. He added that this was the only way you could expect the best in services, as well as in all the works of social life. Another thing that I found commendable.
Anyhow, the history of that forum stops at the very moment I was about to reply: it was the 11th of September 2001, and any further comment, at that time, during the attack at the Twin Towers, sounded, to me, really out of place. So I decided not to continue.
Now, after all this time, I would like to resume that subject; this is because I believe that everything should be considered in its positive and negative facets, assessing its lights and shadows: and I have already listed, above, those cases in which the fighting spirit led to some tragic endings. However, in order to understand those episodes, it is good to specify another side of this concern: I did not mention one aspect at that time, which is, instead, very important. And I am referring to popularity.
Popularity is just, in my humble opinion, a synonym of competitiveness: being popular, in United States, means to have excellent ratings, to be the first in all subjects; but then you also have to be a valuable member of a sports team: it does not matter if it is basketball, baseball or football: the important part is that your are an athlete, otherwise you are just a nerd who deserves to be isolated from the group.
And therein lies the heart of the matter: all the massacres, carried out by students in schools in the United States, were committed by young people who felt excluded by their peers, who were, in some way, discriminated.
The need to be part of a group, the need to be accepted leads, sometimes, the youth to do unacceptable things: things that they would never do if they were not overwhelmed by the anxiety of being welcome. And we are talking about initiation rituals, an offense to the dignity of a person; but we might talk, however, also about blackmail, pressure, constraints and even threats: can all this justify the anxiety of popularity? Only the last things I have just listed can, alone, be considered as criminal offenses. But you may add, to this list, that - without reaching the levels of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, of Sandy Hook Elementary School and Columbine High School - these things may lead, naturally, at times, to murder: the death of someone, committed or self-procured, which is caused by desperation .
That is why I affirm that certainly the urge to excel, the urge to be popular, the urge to be accepted, in principle, is positive. But when it becomes an obsession, a fixed idea, a real torment, then maybe it is time to loosen the strings.
After all, the world keeps on spinning the same, even if you do not have the best grades in school, even if you are not part of the football team, even if you are not a cheerleader.
What is important is to appreciate the gifts that you have and the things that life gives you, without expecting for more.

It is hard, I know, even for me: but at least we can try.

 

Francis Allenby

Updated: 03/29/2014, francisallenby
 
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?
1

Comments


   Login

You might also like

Myths Uncovered about Southern Stereotypes

Hollywood, politics, the media, and others choose to paint Southerners as dum...


Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...
Error!