Sometimes the environment that I reside in can get particularly toxic. It’s something I’ve been speaking to several juniors on campus about – and I’m not sure what we can do to improve on that. There’s several things that come to mind when you use the word “toxic”, but the specific problem I’d like to focus some part of this post on is the problem of comparison.
Competition is natural – it’s primal in human beings. We’ve always competed for resources, so applying that to daily life is not something I would take away from our species. It exists on the macro level – countries want to be the foremost, the best, and the micro level – with individuals wanting to be better than others. There’s a lot of positives to competition generally, insofar as it informs you – informing you about available opportunities and things available in the world, but also, informing you about the sort of stuff people find interesting. It arguably helps you become better yourself – and apply yourself to your maximum potential (assuming that this application is important), by giving you access and a comparative benchmark, because it asks you “if they’re doing it, why can’t I?”
But in an enclosed campus with grey walls that are like an echo chamber, I think more often than not, all of these positives become overwhelmingly negative. Instead of information about available opportunities, people look at competitors having achieved something more than them: a missed opportunity. People compare across batches, to look at what someone has done more than them, or better than them – instead of creating value systems they’re comfortable with for themselves, people adopt value systems they see in other individuals to gain positions of moral superiority. An enclosed space offers massive misconceptions of what “capital” is – in terms of social influence, and it appears that people grab at it really fast.
It begs the question about whether historically, institutions that do well are institutions that put too much pressure on the next generation merely because they achieve things.
It also begs the question: do achievements matter at all?