We can observe most of the good and bad effects of competition within the school. The same thing happens in the world outside— only on a larger scale.
In a school, we have examinations; inter-school, inter-house and inter-class sporting events; and debating, elocution, quiz, essay and other contests. They constitute the highlights of school life.
Most often, students study best (and hardest) before an examination. Sometimes, during this period, they absorb in a single week a quantity of academic matter they had not been able to digest in the preceding few months! Importance attached to an examination acts as a spur to their mental powers and they discover new levels of ability in themselves.
If one were to strike out all the examinations, and therefore all competition, from the academic calendar, there is a strong likelihood that their latent skills would remain just that—latent skills!
And so it is in the world outside the school. Where there is no competition, life carries on at a fraction of its true potential. It is not a very fruitful or happy way to be. If it is true that we all seek happiness, it is also true that we find it best in the proper exercise of our faculties and the flowering of our talents. In the words of Alfred Tennyson:
How dull it is to pause, to make an end
To rust unfurnished, not to shine in use.
There are people who maintain that the pressure of competition causes psychological and physiological damage. A loser in a competition may form an inferiority complex, he may suffer loss of face and depression and commit suicide; or in his frustration he may pick up a gun and start shooting people. The pressure on him might lead to his getting high blood pressure or insomnia or any number of diseases.
Their remedy: stamp out competition. That would be like throwing the baby out with the bath water. The factors that sometimes give competition a bad name have nothing to do with competition per se, but are derived from the shortcomings of human nature.
Some people are overly competitive. Such a businessman may resort to harming the interests of a rival businessman to secure a contract; and such a politician may resort to underhand means to win an election. Even in the Olympics, star athletes are known to have used banned steroids to enhance their performance.
That is the ugly side of competition we should steer clear of, both because it is morally wrong and because, in the long run, it does not pay. The leader who assassinates to eliminate competition either himself gets assassinated or leads such an insecure life that he cannot enjoy the power he has wrested.
One does not necessarily have to compete with others. Ideally, one should compete with oneself. Today, one tries to do better than what one had done yesterday. This forward movement is what living should be all about. When a person does not compete, either with others or with himself, he is heading for stagnation, a state that ultimately leads to depression. But even competition has lines that should not be crossed, for crossing they can only bring untold woe to oneself and to others.