Dum, da, da, da, rang the bell—class had started. I tensed up; did I have to go to the bathroom? I couldn’t think or acknowledge anyone, at least there was no one to talk to. My heart caught in my esophagus, and my stomach turned like a roller coaster ride. “You are getting your tests back today,” remarked our teacher. Of course, we knew; he was sitting there holding them in his hand as if they weren’t something that we cared so deeply about. This caring penetrated my soul and made me think about this moment all day. Do I really want to know? I mean, if I get a good score that I am happy with, of course I want to know, but if the opposite happened (I got a bad score), it would be bad. Did I want it or not?
My teacher slowly walked around handing them out. Lick finger, hand out a test, lick finger, hand out a test. He looked like a cat about to pounce on the whole class. All of his power, at that moment, came from one sheet of paper. Fold them, face down on the desks. Tests are private; that’s why they matter. He came to me. I looked up; had he always been this tall? Lick, take, fold, face down on my desk. If I looked at it long enough would it vanish? I took one deep breath and turned it face up, unfolded it, to see something astonishing. How did I do it? Was I dreaming? I got a 100. I didn’t understand. My heart leaped inside my chest, and my eyes lit up.
The first thing that I thought was, “I can’t wait to tell my friends and family!” Of course, I was proud of myself, but that first thought, first instinct, suggests that all the while I hoped to get a good grade was just to impress other people—just to show that I am smart, smarter than everyone who didn’t get a grade like mine. Sure, all that really matters is that I tried my best, but can’t I be proud? I had gotten a great score, and if I asked others what they had gotten, it was almost like bait to make them ask me. And of course I would tell them. Disobeying the “private test policy” could almost be considered ordinary routine.
Then there’s the fact that other students may not feel comfortable sharing their score. They may not have done as well as they had hoped. If they didn’t, they might lie about what they got. I might disrupt their comfort zone, so I might not get the full truth. Or they might be under enough stress considering the fact that they should tell their parents. What if I got a score that unsettled my stomach? What if I didn’t want to share? Should I respect the “private test policy” or just go with my ego? In times like these I need to remember integrity. If someone had asked me about my score, and I hadn’t gotten a good one, would I be truly honest?
I find irony in thinking about competition in an environment where everyone should be treated the same. Quakers believe in treating everyone as they would want to be treated. So when competition “turns the corner” can everyone win? Or is there just no winning at all? At home my family and I are all about competition.
Everything that I or my sisters do is either a race or some sort of competition. We take these sports seriously (they take most of our nights and weekends away), but there has always been something that comes first to none: academics. My mother was a great student, worked hard, and persisted to get good grades, which paid off by going to a great university. My father was never the type that tried hard, or really cared that much about school, but regrets that to this day.
My older sister also goes to my school, has been in the same classes, and knows the “difficulties” of the year. I like having a sister that tells me things, and fills me in on each teacher, and how to act, and so forth. She has always been a great student, in all of the advanced classes, getting the highest score of that week’s test, but I feel as if I am expected to do that too. “Mr. ____ is so easy,” she may say. “His tests are a piece of cake. But don’t feel pressured.” This pressure that she doesn’t want to put on me stresses me out sometimes. Would she have done this? I constantly ask myself. Would she have said this?
Putting all of the peer and family pressure on myself gives me more anxiety. When it’s on my mind I don’t act the same, interact with people the same, or sometimes even talk at all. I need to remember that I am me. I don’t need to compare myself with others. I need to lead with simplicity in my heart, rather than feeling anxiety. I need to stay calm and collected. I need to respect the community, but not disrupt their comfort zones. If all we are doing is trying to compete with one another, it may give us stress; we need to take care of others and care about ourselves, only ourselves. There will always be competition in my life even when I deny it, but I always need to remember to stay true to myself and walk my own path through life.
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