C.S. Lewis once wrote that “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” I think one glance a popular culture can give us an idea of how saturated we are with this. It’s everywhere.
There is not a sport in existence where people don’t make lists of the “greatest players.” It goes beyond statistics as the greatest players are the ones with championships. In other words, they are the ones playing on the greatest teams. This is somewhat confusing because the whole idea of a team is to be a single unit, greater than the sum of its parts. It is difficult to even conceive of greatest in a manner that doesn’t mean beating everyone else?
This isn’t limited to sports. We have lists for everything imaginable- video games, colleges, Actors, websites, or Children’s Hospitals, or influential people, or places to live. Today’s reality TV is built entirely on the principle of beating out everyone else. Who’s the American Idol, Survivor, last comic standing, biggest loser, etc. al etc. In fact, there exist entire websites dedicated simply to ranking things. Perhaps the easiest blog post in the world is to come up with a list and invite debate. Lest anyone think I am criticising, I have done this too, and it can be good fun. Although I should note, I did carefully omit the word “Top” from my post.
The media can makes news looking at what movie did the best at the box office rather than how people actually enjoyed said movie, what makes it interesting, or any message said movie might have about life. We admire those who are driven to be the top. Our schools are ranked by test scores. In turn, our nations are then ranked by the test scores of their students. Medical school applicants are ranked by Medical schools largely by test scores, as these at least have some kind of objective measurement attached and are a quick, effort free way to sum up who should be let in. Subjective measures such as interviews have unfortunately backfired on many an institution.
No one buys into this whole line of thinking more hook, line, and sinker than the dreadful overachiever that is the medical student. After all, we all need to learn how to answer the question, “So tell me why you deserve a spot over the rest of our applicants.”It’s a time honored interview question.” I really, really loathe that question. Many schools get rid of grades in order to try to tone down cutthroat competition. It doesn’t work. For one thing, class rankings are kept for the purpose of honor societies and helping competitive specialties sort out applicants. For another, it is just too engrained a habit for the “gunner.”
Once in medical school, many of us soon learn that while we were once able to excel against a certain level of competition, the stakes are substaintially raised in Med School. Most learn quickly there will always be someone smarter. In the otherwise disappointing movie that was Star Wars, episode one, one line grabbed me. The jedi are undersea in watercraft fleeing gigantic fish which are then eaten by more gigantic fish. Quai Gon Jin’s notes, “There’s always a bigger fish.” This is a bitter pill to swallow for someone who formed their entire vision of their self worth based on what they do better than others. Here is where this philosophy ultimately fails us. We are left with the perverse economics of Highlander, In the end, there can only be one “best.”
It turns out we are much happier once we figure out that life is about the journey, not the destination. Learning to live in the present is learning to experience life fully. This is what mindfulness is all about. Instead of worrying about what may happen, we do what we can now. Instead of looking at what we do not have, we enjoy what we do. The benefits are many. We actually perform better because we are fully concentrating on the moment. We learn and enjoy what we do have to its fullest. We forget about what we do not have when beyond our control, and work to achieve it when within our power.
What do those who actually achieve best status get for their trouble? At some point they lose sight of what it is that made them start on their journey in the first place. Their entire lives end up distorted by single minded attempts to outperform everyone else. They give up other pursuits. They give up normal life. A life dedicated entirely to competition is dedicated only to being comparitively “better.” Once they achieve it, then what? This is the great question? What kind of lasting happiness really comes from being the best. I think without exception, A life lived for perfection is a life destined for disappointment.
It is fascinating to me how the Savior turned this kind of thinking on its head. God, the greatest of all, descended below all men. He taught, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” In Modern LDS scripture, we learn his work and glory are to bring to pass the Immortality and Eternal Life of man. He turns hierarchy completely on its head. It’s a revolutionary idea. He that is the greatest states his entire work is to increase the greatness of others, and in so doing becomes even greater and more glorified.
This is what it means to develop motives that are pure. This is where true love and service lead. This is the foundation of heaven itself. Everyone lives to help everyone else. Jealousies are extinguished and Love reigns. We become Zion, of one heart and one mind, not by tearing down individuality, but by glorying in it, in the accomplishments of others. Can we catch a glimpse of this vision within ourselves?