kansas revisited: my family reunion is better than yours.

Some of you may not know me well, so you may not realize that I have quite a competitive streak. Actually, to not know that about me, I'd say you didn't know me at all. A healthy dose of competitiveness is a good thing. It leads to other good things, like drive, ambition, and determination. But too much is a bad thing, because then failure becomes not a setback or learning experience, but simply not an option. And then not only do other people find you obnoxious, but you're also never really happy because no one wins or is right all the time.

I am too competitive. I didn't realize it for a long time, but it came as a disappointment. Casey had been trying to point it out to me for some time, but I just figured he was a sore loser. Let me give you an example. The titles of valedictorian and salutatorian are determined using a QPA or quality point average. So, if you take honors or college-level classes, you get more points for your grades. Anyway, I spent the better part of the spring semester of my senior year getting over the fact that I wasn't going to be valedictorian, but only salutatorian. I'd done the math, and it turns out that I hadn't taken enough college-level classes to be #1. Finally, I consoled myself that my salutatory speech would be a heck of a lot better than the valedictory speech, thereby making me the winner in public opinion of intelligence, if not in the numbers.

I like to be right, I like to win, I like to have the last word. Getting over that is very, very hard. I'm working on it as part of my lifelong campaign to not be an obnoxious person. I got into an argument about the existence of a word with a guy whose vocabulary far surpasses mine. True to form, I went home and looked it up. But then when I realized I was wrong, I forced myself to go up to him and admit he was right. Oh. So. Difficult. But he thought it was funny that I had looked it up, and we all had a good laugh, and it was all okay. See? That wasn't so hard. (By the way, the word was "vegetal," and it means of or pertaining to plants. See? It sounds made up.)

Harder still than admitting wrong is just ending the discussion. There are times when two people will never agree and the argument becomes pointless. So I've tried to just finish it by saying, "Look, we're not going to agree, so we should just talk about something else." This statement is always always met with the reply "You just don't want to talk about it anymore because you know I'm right," which has to be the most goading thing I've ever heard it my life. The strength not to reply to that one is really almost more than I have.

I always figured that my need to win came from my upbringing. Youngest of six successful intelligent children? Yeah, that would do it to you. There was pressure to do at least as well as everyone before me. But then, I had to either do it better or do something differently, otherwise I was just another of the six. This was all pressure I put on myself, of course, but that didn't make it any less important. And if my brothers and sisters were competitive, I figured that growing up in this family did it to them, too.

Last week I went to Kansas for a family reunion of my mother's family. And I realized that even without the added bonus of having five older brothers and sisters to compete with, I would've had a mean competitive streak anyway. I realized it while watching a couple of cousins play ping-pong. It was a friendly game, no pressure, but let's not kid ourselves: each one was playing to win. And I realized that throughout the weekend, that was the way it had been. Playing cards, wrestling in the pool, ping-pong, pool, no matter what we played, we wanted to win. I leaned over to another cousin who was watching the game and asked him if he thought a competitive nature was in all of our genes, and he quickly agreed that it was. Apparently, he'd noticed it in his branch of the family, too.

And really, I should've known that it came from my mother. Once she and Daddy got into some argument about the definition of a word, and after the argument had been over for some five minutes, she gets up from the table and leaves the room. It took me a second to realize that she was going for the dictionary. Daddy realized it, too, and laughed. She came back, all of Webster's Unabridged glory in her arms, and read the definition in its entirety to us. Daddy just laughed some more.

It always funny to see your own traits active in others, particularly relatives. It allows you to see what other people see when they look at you. And hey, even if I never completely get over this ridiculously competitive nature of mine, it's nice to know I have company.

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