“When you lose, do not lose the lesson”

Mariam Salie provides a personal reflection on her early experiences with mathematics and collaboration and shares her insight of the value of collaboration.

Illustration by Nino Mekanarishvili

As a child, I always loved mathematics. My friends thought I was weird, but my teachers loved me and my parents were very proud. But it was the challenge of pushing myself every time I tried to complete a new sum or apply a new formula that got me. It is quite something to beat your own high score! I remember in my very early days at school, I was identified as one of the ‘brighter’ kids and placed in group ‘A’ on the mat. This meant that I got to help the teacher with ensuring that my fellow classmates in the other groups got up to speed. This was my favourite part – being able to explain to others and feel as excited as I did the first time, I got it right, when they finally understood the math problem.

You may think that I probably made it as a math genius, but this is not the case. These are the memories that came up when I thought about the concept of competition versus collaboration. For me, it was never a competition, it was always about collaboration. The only competition was with myself, trying to better my understanding or be able to complete a sum quicker than before. There was a euphoria for me working through a math problem, especially when I got the answer wrong. I was determined to figure out the mistake, simply because I knew there was always a way to get it right. For most people, mistakes are a challenge and simply put, people do not like to make them. I have always thought though that there are lessons in failing. I often think about my attitude when it comes to this and I guess I have my dad to thank. He instilled in me one of many mottos – when in life you lose, do not lose the lesson. This has prompted me time and again to continue even when I want to give up.

Illustration by Maria Esteves

Coming back to competition versus collaboration – what are my thoughts? I think healthy competition is welcome since it facilitates learning and growth. One can remain quite stagnant if you do not push yourself to reach new limits. I do think that it is important to collaborate through competition. Humans are unique in the way that they are different to each other. For this very reason we end up learning from each other. When collaborative competition is encouraged, possibilities are as they say – endless.

As a clinical psychologist who works with different types of people, I am acutely aware of how unhealthy competition can render someone anxious and even debilitate them. Our education system, unfortunately, does not facilitate healthy competition amongst young minds, neither does it encourage challenging the self and forging critical lenses. Despite this, I believe that those of us who know the value of collaboration and healthy competition should do our best to perpetuate an environment for thriving, competing with ourselves to develop our full potential and collaborate to constantly reach new heights.

Mariam Salie

Department of Psychology,
STELLENBOSCH UNIVERSITY

Illustration by Liani Malherbe

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