I was somewhat dismayed in recent years to hear the story of a young woman who attended an elite girls’ school in the same city I grew up in some thirty years later. She was intelligent and driven in all fields of life, including a passion for sport. Over her high school years she gathered a close group of friends with similar interests and abilities who vied for honours in the sporting and academic fields. This appeared healthy until they came to their graduating year and, over a relatively short period of time, the relationships started to break down. This demise paralleled the increase in the stakes of achievement both in the classroom and on the sporting field. Perhaps, the final expression was seen in the senior year athletics carnival.
The young woman Jess (not her real name), was an outstanding athlete and expected to win the ‘champion girl’ award. Her friend Ruth (also not her real name) was house captain and responsible for allocating competitors to the events. When the last events on the card were approaching, Ruth told Jess that she could not compete as the school had set event restrictions per competitor, which Jess duly accepted. Jess did not win champion girl because every other competitor participated in more events than she had. There were no event restrictions; Ruth had simply spiked her opportunity.
I find this story alarming, not because of the missed opportunity for Jess (everyone has disappointments and this may later in life qualify as barely memorable) but because of what the incident reveals about Ruth. Ruth did not understand two things; that competition brings out YOUR best rather than measures you against others and that celebrating the achievements of others, particularly friends, is an opportunity of great honour.