Competitively Speaking

I was amused to read this news report that dogs can sniff out unfair situations and show an emotion similar to envy or jealousy. Friederike Range, an animal psychologist at the University of Vienna said that this is a more complex feeling than we would normally attribute to an animal.

But then I read the report carefully. It seems that the dogs in the experiment were purposely placed in a situation where they were given unequal rewards for equal work. Or denied rewards given to other dogs.

In other words, they were taught to be jealous, by humans.

But then, humans even teach their own children to be envious of others. When a child brings home a report card with good marks, before even praising the child, many parents ask about their friends’ results.

Such children are never judged to be successful on their own merit, they are successful only if they are better than their friends.

Children learn early in life to compare. They are encouraged to do better than others in order to ‘get ahead’. This is a phrase often used- getting ahead. But getting ahead of whom?

There will always be someone more clever, more athletic, more talented than our children. Should they then be pushed all the time? If this happens, they will always have an inferiority complex- which some children do get, as a result of such constant ‘competition’.

A child should feel comfortable about his achievements. He should be encouraged to develop his talents, but not just to be better than the neighbour’s child.

A friend told me that her daughter was learning Bharatnatyam. I asked if she enjoyed her dance classes. “I don’t know” my friend told me, “But it will look good on her CV later on. An additional qualification.”

What a reason to learn to dance!

Life, unfortunately, is not always fair. Children do learn that from an early age.

Some children are naturally intelligent, while others are not. Some have a melodious voice. Others do not.
Some children need to study for long hours, to get the same marks that their friend may be able to obtain very easily.

But that does not mean children should be jealous of each other.

Parents should not constantly make comparisons between children, and as a result make them jealous. They should instead encourage their child to develop his special talents to the best of his ability.

Children should learn to appreciate the successes of others without feeling envious. Then they will also receive genuine appreciation from others for their own successes.

Edited on Dec. 17 to add:-

As Mavin says, it is indeed raining awards!

First Shail gave me my very first blogging award- the Butterfly award for the coolest blog.

Now Mavin has so kindly conferred upon me the Proximity award.

This has also been awarded to me by Mandira.

I have also been given the Butterfly award once again by Smitha.

A heartfelt thank you to all of you!



  1. Manju, I don’t know about these experiments with dogs, but I know that dogs can be possessive and perhaps jealous, without being taught to be so. I once had a dog who never took kindly to my petting another dog! The moment I would do that, he would quietly but firmly ‘elbow’ the other dog out of position and then rub against me and look up, demanding to be petted himself!But you are absolutely right that we deliberately teach our children to compare and get ahead. Everything in life, almost, is about doing better than the guy next to you. That leads to abnormal jealousies and inferiority complexes, emotions that can only harm


  2. Manju this post struck a chord. You’ve summed up my angst with our obsession with ‘competition’. All my life I have wondered (and fought) at our system that makes children feel so inadequate – because they must do better than everybody else. There is no concept of learning something for itself. My daughter’s class mates took Sanskrit in Class X, and I was like “Wow you are interested in Sanskrit” No. They hate the language, can’t utter two sentences in it, but they did actually score 100% which will look good on their resume! Can children raised like this ever be really happy ? Won’t they forever be dissatisfied with themselves! I have gone out of my way to instill a sense of ‘bettering ourselves’ as against, ‘being better than others’ in them, it isn’t easy when the schools are forever harping about scoring half or a point more then the next child. Most parents disagree with me on this. But some Dogs, maybe because they are raised like that or whatever, are insecure sometimes, they like all the attention 🙂 I think they are intelligent enough to see they are being forced to share our love … and like us, they come in all kinds of temperaments. They are like babies when it comes to sharing our affection and attention.


  3. Vinodji- Yes, I think we are harming our children by giving them inferiority complexes and jealousies.This is not the ‘healthy’ type of competition where all the children try their best.IHM- Yes, even when parents do not like this unwholesome type of competitiveness, the schools encourage it.Re dogs: Yes, I have seen dogs become jealous over ther owners. Many years ago we had a dog who was very possessive of everyone in the family.Maybe dogs can not easily realize differences in rewards such as food, etc. which, I think, was examined in this study.


  4. Manju, what you say is soo true.. Everything is a matter of competition.. I know of so many people who send their children to umpteen classes just to keep them half a point ahead.. Sometimes, I wonder if today’s children even have the time to ‘play’. And more often than not – as you mentioned, parents are nto even sure if the child enjoys the activity. I sincerely hope that I do not ending up doing the same with my daughter and that I am able to give her the freedom of being herself and as IHM mentioned ‘instill a sense of bettering ourselves as against’.


  5. Smitha- I am sure that you will be able to give your daughter the freedom to be herself she needs to grow as an individual. Being aware of the necessity to do this, is half the battle won.:)


  6. Jealousy primarily results from a lack of self-esteem and a proper grounding. This leads to a constant belief that we are somehow disadvantaged or suffer fom lack.Your observations on a child’s report card reactions ring so true. We actually end up destroying the child’s self-esteem and implant in them the thought that are in some way inadequate.We are responsible for perpetuating this.


  7. Mavin- Yes, we parents are responsible to an extent. I think the system of admission to various courses of higher education is even more responsible. We have to do the best we can as parents in such an education system.


  8. ( not with reference to the post ) I like your “discover india” feature. i have been to dabhol on a school picnic.i am not sure if this comment will show up because it is not allowing me to comment on many blogs


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