On Non-Competitiveness, by Ellen Gawler
When Dr Suzuki returned to Japan after WW2, he was moved to do what he could to build a society that would nurture beautiful souls. He believed this would help create a society that would be less inclined to go to war. This vision became the backbone of the Suzuki Method. He understood that in life, there is only love and fear. Fear translates to seeing each other as separate. Love understands that we are all connected. From this beautiful understanding, the Suzuki method places an emphasis less on competition and more on participation, less on comparison and more on encouragement and developing an understanding for each other.
The Suzuki method does not reserve itself for musical prodigies, but rather for normal children whose parents may not have prior musical experience themselves. Musical excellence is encouraged for the purpose of the students' progress and development of their musicianship. Children are praised for their effort rather than told they possess a particular talent. This is because talent is often perceived by the child as an intangible element that has the potential to confuse and in the long run undermine a child's confidence in their ability to have agency over their own musical journey. Attention and praise for hard work gives the child something tangible that they can have agency over to ensure progress. Everyone brings varying levels of natural ability to the table, however, everyone has to work at it. It may take one child 20 times and another 200 times to accomplish a skill but who is to say the one who had to work harder is at a disadvantage? Sometimes these individuals are the ones that stay the course. Everyone has a different experience and within that, everyone is working hard.
How does this all manifest in our everyday working with our children and each other? Truly understanding Dr Suzuki's philosophy can really help us help our children with the issue of comparing themselves to others. I have had discussions with children (and humor helps here) pointing out that no matter where they are in the material, or in life, there will always be people who are further or not as far along as them. However, everyone is working hard wherever they are. Everyone is different and celebrated for where they are on their own paths. How we understand the issues of non-competitiveness is communicated to our children in verbal and non verbal ways. As a community, if we internalize Dr Suzuki's philosophy, the message will be consistent, which is especially important when little ears are present.
Another exercise I have had success with looks like this: As solo recital time approaches, I ask the children to play their prepared piece for each other. But before they do, they are asked to notice something that they like about the playing of the soloist. Then we go around the ring and one at a time, offer up what we have noticed. I, as the teacher, help by modeling this for them. At first, they may be reluctant to speak up, but, as they get the hang of it, and as others venture a comment, they get the idea and it becomes fun. This helps them get onto the same team as their musical buddies, and helps them recognize that everyone is doing their very best wherever they are. Ultimately, this helps them get out of themselves and into the consideration of others. This also helps them trust that when they play, they too will be encouraged, not judged, which can go long way in building confidence in performance. This is a non-competitive muscle that can be strengthened and can translate beautifully into everyday interactions with our children when the issue of comparison arises.
The heart of accomplishment is hard work. Performance then becomes a celebration rather than a competition. It's the celebration of each step along the way, and an educational experience. There is always something in performance we can find in the child's effort to celebrate. With competitions, there are winners and losers. We all win when the child does not give up. Winning is when all students succeed. This is how Dr. Suzuki shows us how we can help develop beautiful human beings.