I used to despise competition. Growing up with siblings, our lives were devoted to one-upping each other and proving who had done something better than the other. I often found myself doing crazy things solely for the purpose of proving that I had done something my siblings had not. This was quite unhealthy in the development of my idea of what it meant to compete. Competition to me was a ruthless way for people to show who was better than the other. This could take the form of a kickball competition in gym class or challenging a rival to see who could get the higher grade in an algebra test. My idea and approach to competition shifted when I was integrated into Westtown Middle School.
At Westtown, I was first introduced to this new form of competition in my sixth grade year. We were starting leadership roles and holding elections for the student clerk position. These clerks were incredibly important to our daily life at Westtown. They not only were the ones to fundraise for charitable organizations and address problems in the community, but they oversaw a fundamental piece of Quakerism at our school: meeting for worship. At the beginning of every meeting, they introduced us to various queries that would allow us to reflect on our accomplishments and consider room for improvement within our community. As people began to verbalize their candidacy for this position, we were quickly informed that this was going to be very different from the competitive elections we were used to, such as U.S. presidential elections. The process we used is called discernment. In this process, rather than having individuals compete to see who gets the most votes, we lift up each individual and then come to a consensus about who would be best as the position of clerk.
This process is not only respectful, but I believe it fully encompasses some of the core Quaker values. Although in the end one person triumphs, we make sure that everyone is treated equally throughout the process. We lift everyone up, and avoid all of the negativity. Although there are many other ways in which competition can be brought into Quaker life, I believe this one is the most clear and relevant.