A mother frantically scrolls through her Facebook account, making sure she has reached out to every friend, relative, and colleague on the unusually long list. The contest ends in two hours and she is still 50 likes behind the top runner. She thinks about every effort she made to make sure her 3-year-old son’s photo gets an ample number of likes. It would be a shame not to win the ‘Terrific Toddler’ contest after all that hard work. She decides to send a second message, asking for likes, to the people who hadn’t replied. She hopes to see her son win.
The above scenario is quite recurrent in today’s era of social media- throwing unsuspecting kids in the digital battlefield where actually, the parents are soldiers. The winner gets a reward, pride and some virtual praise and the losers feel sad that they don’t have enough ‘friends’. The participating children go through a lot more. Winners and losers alike. They are exposed to evil eyes and they are told that they need to be better than other toddlers just so that they can get extra approval from people they hardly know. Furthermore, seeds of jealousy, show off and deceit are planted very early for the innocent kids. This is exactly what unhealthy competition looks like.
Being in a competition is simply being engaged in something with the intention of doing better than the others involved and winning. This is permissible and encouraged in Islam. With its many benefits, it is no wonder we find competition in every strata of society, no matter what age or environment you belong to.
- Competition revives focus. It makes us more observant and gives us an eye for details.
- Competition gives us an idea of our strengths and weakness. Dreaming big is applauded but while doing so, we need to think rationally and decide what our forte is and we need to stay away from taking big risks and venturing into fields that we do not have the expertise for.
- Competition helps us evolve for the better. It hones our skills and makes us feel like a better person.
- Competition teaches us perseverance. Competing repeatedly and noticing improvements in ourselves encourages us to persist
- Competition helps us improve our organization and time management skills. Aiming to win will encourage us to plan better than before.
- Competition helps you deal with victory and loss. Failure improves our endurance and encourages us to take a second opportunity and try harder.
In the drive to compete, we shouldn’t get so carried away that we stray into the dangerous grounds of unhealthy competition. As beneficial as healthy competition can be, unhealthy competition can be equally harmful. Self-interest and getting attention or validation from other people becomes the only source of motivation. In such situations, a person is willing to do anything to win. Even if it means playing a hand at destroying another person. People then forget that this world is temporary and they wire themselves to believe that the rewards that are up for grabs are scarce and if it is not won now, it will be snatched by someone else. This not just affects the mental wellbeing of the person but also repels the people around the person.
Actions are rewarded by intentions and intentions, in turn, determine whether we are steering towards healthy or unhealthy competition.
Allah says in the Quran:
“Each of you chooses the direction to follow; you shall race towards righteousness. Wherever you may be, God will summon you all. God is omnipotent.” (2:148)
The Arabic word sabiqu means putting in extra effort and pushing harder to do good deeds in order to earn rewards. This hard work should not be a one-time endeavor but should in fact be a daily consistent activity. While doing so, it is not ‘being better than others’ but ‘gaining the pleasure of Allah’ that becomes the intention. The moment we realize that worldly rewards are short-lived is the moment we restructure our intentions towards gaining the rewards of the hereafter.
‘Racing towards righteousness’ also rids ourselves of the ill-effects of unhealthy competition. Jealousy, ego, momentary happiness, pride, over-confidence, all take a back seat and pave the way to good relationships with ourselves, the people around us and with God. There will be a lot of opportunities to lock horns. The direction we take is up to us.
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