The other morning at breakfast, the Squirrel noticed that she and I both had the same amount of orange juice left in our glasses. “Let’s race to see who can finish first!,” she screamed. “Ugh,” I responded. I just wanted to enjoy my orange juice.
This ordinary breakfast moment made me wonder/panic, “What will be my daughter’s relationship to competition?” And this morning, in the wake of my town’s fervor over the victory of the Golden State Warriors, I feel the need to explore the concept of competition a bit further.
My competition-panic comes from the fact that I have always been a bit competition-phobic. My grandfather, who was an Olympic-class runner in his youth, used to tell a story about me that I absolutely love. One summer while I was visiting my grandmother and him in their home in Evanston, IL, he entered me in a little kids’ race in connection with a 4th of July festival. I was around 5 and was running the race with other 5 year olds. How cute is that?
According to my grandfather, I was fast. I took off with an early lead and kept that lead for a long time. Until, I noticed that I was in the lead. I noticed I was no longer with all of the other kids. So, I stopped. I was waiting for them to catch up.
I love this story because I feel like it so beautifully depicts my values of community, connection, and equity. I have committed my adult life to examining and promoting how to bring people together; how those left behind can catch up.
At the same time, as a girl advocate, the story troubles me. Why couldn’t I take my place out ahead? Why was I uncomfortable leading the group?
One thing I noticed while witnessing the aftermath of last night’s championship game was the massive amount of community and connection that was created by the Warriors’ win. Right at the final buzzer, I ran outside my door just because I was curious what folks would do to celebrate. I heard yelps and hollers and car horns and gun shots and firecrackers and general jubilation. There was even someone on my street playing a horn of some kind. Not well, but with the sheer joy of someone welcoming home an old friend they hadn’t seen in 40 years.
I was inspired and pumped up by how this simple competitive sport was connecting me to my neighbors. I thought about how connected the players felt to each other – not just the victorious Warriors but also the defeated Cavaliers – how taking on a task as mighty as an NBA championship can bond you to each other, win or lose. I meditated on the connections that can even be built between competitors in that moment when LeBron James congratulated Stephen Curry at the end of the game. It made me realize that, when people are courageous enough to take their place out ahead of the group, they put themselves in the position of not just winning a game, but winning the respect and admiration of others who recognize their efforts and celebrate their hard work.
This is what I want for my daughter. It’s what I want for myself. It’s want I want for all women and girls. As I wonder/panic about how my daughter yields her own power in the world, I want us all to be able to access real competition in healthy and dynamic ways. My wish is that we can work hard, take our rightful place out ahead when appropriate, and celebrate the wins of others when defeated. I want my daughter to be known as both a fierce competitor and a compassionate community leader; always looking for ways to use her power to help others who have been left behind.
And I also want her to let me enjoy my orange juice.