I know from my personal experience what competition can do to a friendship. Just recently, my South Indian classical dance group participated in a competition. There are seven of us in my class, but one girl, Ramya, told us that she couldn’t dance with us. When we asked her why, she said that she had already decided to dance with another group. She was going to be in one of the groups competing against us. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this.
Should I want her to lose because we were competing against her? And should I be mad at her for leaving her own group for another one—even if it was only for the competition? Or should I just not care too much about it—after all, there would be other competitions later in which she could participate with us, so what was the big deal?
So, the six of us now in my dance group practiced. We practiced again and again and again. At practice, some girls would say that we had to beat Ramya’s group; but then again, I thought, she was a really close friend.
So, finally, the day of the competition arrived. I was nervous at first, but when our turn came, we danced very well and followed all the corrections our teacher had made. I felt good. However, when we sat down to watch other groups perform, I wasn’t so sure if we had done better than them. We couldn’t see Ramya’s group’s performance properly because it was right before ours, but we saw most of it from the sides of the stage. They had the advantage of manymore people than us. They danced extremely well, and with many people moving around everywhere, it looked very beautiful.
Prize distribution time arrived. As we all sat in our seats, clutching each other’s hands and squealing with anticipation, I began to think pessimistically. What if we don’t win anything? Not even the consolation prize? So, when one of the groups that had danced after us received the consolation prize, I felt even more pessimistic.
Then the judge announced, “Third place …”
I squeezed my friend’s hands tighter than ever, wishing with all my heart that we would win it. After what seemed like eternity, the judge called out … our name. We all shrieked and jumped up with joy and ran along the side of the auditorium to get to the stage. We all lined up on the stage. First, we were given the big trophy. Then, each of us received a smaller trophy. When the judge handed mine to me, I smiled like I had never smiled before. I let it sink in. We had won third place. It was our first time entering a competition, and we were in the top three.
As I looked down, I was surprised to see that Ramya and her group were cheering for us. As we ran back to our seats, we passed her, her, and she immediately stood up to congratulate us and give us hugs. She seemed genuinely happy for us. After all, she was still from the same dance school.
When we had settled down at the sidelines, or as settled as it’s possible to be when you’re that excited, the judge continued on to second place. It was another group that we did not know. When the judge reached first, different feelings started whirling around inside me. Should I want Ramya’s group to get it? Should I want to have beaten her? Or should I be happy for her if they win? After all, they probably deserved the prize. Before I could make up my mind, however, the judge had announced the winner. Her group did win. As they ascended the steps leading to the stage, I found myself and my group cheering for her. When she came down after they had received their trophies, I found myself giving her a hug, congratulating her group, and feeling happy for her.
As we walked out a few minutes later, however, some of the girls in my group were saying that they wished we had beaten Ramya’s group. I can’t say that I didn’t agree with them, but I had finally decided how I felt—I won’t hurt a friendship or hold a grudge just because of a competition. A truly good friendship will hold out against things like this. And now, right after the competition, I feel closer to the other five, because they have shared this experience with me. I also know that Ramya and I are still really close friends, and nothing that I can think of will change that in the near future—not even competition.
Being Asian does not really affect how I think about this. I can’t really generalize, because just because I am Asian does not mean that all other Asians think the same way as me. I guess I could say that—not all—but manyAsian parents set higher standards for their children, so even if they don’t show it, you feel a little more pressured to win in competition. However, I think this is a good thing, because it pushes you to be the best you can be.
In my experience, I experienced winning, losing (to Ramya’s group), teamwork, and a sense of achievement. Though I think I have taken competition in the right spirit, who knows how many other people do? I am sure there are many others who have let competitions like these break their friendships, but now I know better, so I won’t let it happen to me.
Madhavi Muralidharan’s essay won second place in the 6th-8th grade Essay category of the 2008 Growing Up Asian in America Contest sponsored by the Asia Pacific Fund.