Competition is a big part of the everyday world. It overlaps with the desire for power and the desire for community, bringing people together at the same time it could be tearing them apart. Sometimes you thrive under competition, blossom like that beautiful violet tulip in the crisp spring air. Other times, you wilt under it, splitting your soul open, disappointment and false expectation washing over you. Competition can, as society says, make or break a person, turning them into the success stories you hear on the news or the unheard-of citizens living in the dark. In short, competition can make you a better person, or it can make you a worse one. All through it, your community, your world, can either raise you up or bring you down.
Quakerism has taught me, and continues to teach me, the values of living a whole life, so hopefully, I can be one of the people who will lift others up in my community and family. I remember one of the most influential moments of my understanding of peace and community. Ironically, it was at a competition—the type where you shiver with nerves as you warm up, your muscles freezing up with fear—where I learned the full relation of life and the Quaker testimonies. It overlapped with all of my quandaries about life and made me feel truly fulfilled, truly centered.
Bam. Bam. Bam. The ball races through the court as the adrenaline in my veins courses through me, creating a loud pounding in my ears as I lunge and make my next hit. My opponent thinks fast and hits a deep volley slam, the small black ball hitting the nick in the back corner of the court on the left side. It dies as soon as it bounces off the cream-white walls lined with red facades. The game ties several times, and finally, at the last point of the last match of my final game, she wins the whole tournament: what’s-her-name from Central DC. I can barely remember what my own parents named me as I step outside of the court, hand slightly trembling at the soft yellow grip of my racket. My face is a cherry-red, lined with sweat, gold and brown wisps of hair forming ringlets around my forehead. I force a smile, making sure it is at least a bit genuine as I put my arm out and shake moist hands with the winner.
“Good job,” I say, as I do in any match, win or lose. I placed second in the whole tournament, which is usually great for anyone. However, in the high-education, well-bred, athletic society of my life today, it hardly seems acceptable to me. That doesn’t keep me from feeling proud, proud of trying my hardest to reach this place, balancing my life between school, squash, friends, my personal livelihood—all interconnected, all stranded together, crossing threads in the broad board of my life.
My opponent and I have to referee the game after us, which, as I look at the game board, will be in four minutes. I collect myself, washing my face in the polished bathroom, grabbing a long sip of water from my bottle, and then walking back to the court where I just played.
I meet the girl who beat me, and we have an awkward tension at first. I try to break the ice between us, asking her how long she has been playing squash for, where she goes to school, etc. After an exchange like this, she becomes less uptight and starts to ask me questions as well. We almost lose track of time because before we know it, the five-minute warm-up given to the current players is up and the game begins. I shout out the score, keeping track of the players, while my new acquaintance writes down the score points. I get some time to ponder while the teenage boys are smacking the ball between themselves. My thoughts drift to where I am currently and what competition means.
I think that the world has enough problems as is. Why add more by putting unneeded pressure on those with the same passions and dreams, those who could potentially change the course of the world? The ultimate reason for competition—the not-friendly, cheating, dirty kind—is power. The world is power-hungry, consumed with the need to have some type of importance, not to help the citizens of our planet, but to rule over them. To obtain money. To spread hate. Some of our most problematic issues stem from the roots of these personalities, creating racism, the aftermath hate of 9/11, the inability to see women as equals for millennia. Reflecting on these ideas, as I often do, I recall words of inspiration that always push me forward through times like these, times where I truly wonder: What is our place in life, as humans? Why is humanity even in existence in the vast expanse of the universe?
Jimi Hendrix once said, “Once the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” I often reflect back on this quote and wonder when the deep power of love will overcome the greedy love of power, and my answer often turns out to be never. There will always be those who feed on the sweet honeysuckle of power, as a hummingbird connects the sweet substance from one plant to another. The sound of an obscene curse snaps me back to reality, and I can immediately guess what this means. Finally, after a four-match game, the black-haired boy from U17 has won the finals of his age division. My opponent and I complete our referee duties by shaking hands with the players; we exchange a few words, telling them they did a good job.
My opponent and I hang out together for a couple more minutes, enough for a short conversation. Soon we are told that all of the winners from all of the age divisions are being called up to the main glass court to receive their awards. I get up from my seat and head over to the court. When we arrive, a few words are shared by the main coaches and hosts of the tournament. First, they start with the boys’ awards, going from U19 all the way to U13. After what seems like an eternity, my opponent and I are called to get our awards. In unison we walk up to the table once cluttered with trophies, now only two remain.
As we receive our awards in the big blue court, the professional all-glass one, we glance at each other. Once the gold gleaming on marble is grasped in my hand, and the slightly bigger trophy is in the grip of my opponent, we smile at each other. She then puts out her whole arm in a motion to hug as her body positions toward me. I reach out my own arm, and we embrace, trophies still in our hands.
In the end, it’s not about who wins and loses. It’s about what you gain from your experience, what you’ve learned from it. When life throws you challenges, you must find a way to cope with the fact that you will never always come out on top, and that is what life is. You have truly won when you have learned, gained knowledge, wisdom, friends. You have truly won when you gain community and inner peace. You have truly won when you find a your own center where you accept life as it comes and goes. When you have personally grown, that’s when you know you have truly won. Because standing in that glass court, posing for the pictures that will be framed on mantle places, I find myself believing that I have truly won, and I can’t help but feel proud.