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Let little ones explore their potential

Inspiring figure: Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist for female education

Even though my wife and I plan to make every effort to avoid creating competition between our babies, we’ve probably already started. Which one is moving more? Which is making mommy uncomfortable? Which is kicking mommy’s ribs and bladder?

But what if they grew up without thinking of competition, only of how to better themselves? What if they thought to only compete against their yesterday, not their siblings or friends? Consider our society, everything is competition now. At work; who has the better job, the better performance review, the better pay, the better office, the better view, the better coffee machine and so on.

Then there are sports, and the media; which television show/film/podcast/Instagram post is the best? Which musician is the best? Which journalist/scientist/corporation/politician?

Why do we judge whether one is better than another and not whether we’re being the best against our own potential? “Let none, therefore, consider the largeness or smallness of the receptacle. The portion of some might lie in the palm of a man’s hand, the portion of others might fill a cup…”*

The trick here is we don’t actually know our own potential. Usain Bolt came from a small town called Trelawny, Jamaica. Malala also came from humble beginnings in Pakistan. The reason I mention them is not because they are internationally known, it’s the process of building their capacity that is important. The unique thing about sprinting is that the method of training is purely against your previous efforts, not against other competitors. Usain Bolt perfected his craft by being better than his previous self.

Malala is similar in that she refused to be compared to boys in Pakistan. And rather than have her compete against the boys, her father encouraged her to better herself by helping girls get an education. Not only does imagining life this way avoid stoking jealousy, feelings of inadequacy and tension between people, it also sets a person on the path to self-discovery. When you’re focused on finding that better part of yourself to show the world, you are giving the world something it has probably never seen.

Competition between people usually stifles creativity instead of enhancing it, as people try to copy what works the best. Look at the workout routines people maintain, the plastic surgery they entertain. People look towards models and blueprints when trying to achieve success rather than developing their own path and being content with their own capacity.

I’m excited by the possibility of my little ones striving to explore their capacity in their unique way. All I can do as a parent is encourage them to focus on what they are capable of and what their talents are. If I can help them with that, then it would go a long way towards avoiding the pitfalls of comparisons and competition. Life is hard enough figuring out what your capacities are without the pressure of having to also do it better than others.

*Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah.