For the first 5 years of primary school, my best friend and I were in the same class. Come Grade 5 and we were abruptly separated.
As a world-crumbling-around-her 9-year-old, I begged my mother to get to the bottom of what I considered the World’s Biggest Travesty. And she did. And my best friend’s mother had asked for us to be separated. I made her first-born too competitive, apparently.
I once lived in a 5,000 person town in the US that had five supermarkets: part of me is all too convinced about the virtues of competition. And yet years ago, during a make-a-wedding-dress-from-toilet-paper hen’s night game, I callously pushed aside the fat-fingered, hideously ill-qualified “seamstresses” in my group and made the Quilton couture gown on my own. When I think of competition my first thoughts always centre on the ugliness.
While considering my primary school friendship as some kind of awful intellectual duel is a step too far for me - I always did think my friend’s mother was a hideous delusional - nevertheless, there likely was a little sparring going on. And I’m convinced it brought out the best in both of us.
Our thick-as-thieves, smart-arse-y dyad benefited from some of those things routinely overlooked when competition between women is quickly dismissed as horrible and only ever centered on men who never deserve that kind of attention.
I’ve written repeatedly about the media too often framing disagreements between woman as a catfight. The catfight frame is cheap and it’s ugly. And yet two people striving alongside one another doesn’t always have to be this way.
Benchmarking is the process whereby a person / a company / a government, compares their performance against something; a set of criteria perhaps, or a similar person or entity. The objective is to establish something to strive for, model against, learn from and perhaps even equal.
And, because it was a pretty long film, I was thinking a lot about benchmarking while watching The Life of Pi.
There’s lots of things going on with Pi that would maketh a worthwhile article: the Wizard Oz allusions, the over-explained Wizard of Oz allusions, the idea of the “unreliable narrator”, the faith.
The one thing that interested me was the relationship between Pi and the tiger, Richard Parker, and how it provided a thoroughly unexpected cinematic presentation of benchmarking.
Winnie the Pooh got it all wrong apparently: befriending a tiger is impossible. So when Young Pi (Vibish Sivakumar) found himself shipwrecked with the stripy beast, the situation was less about the duo becoming BFFs, and more so about them coming to the realisation that their sparring was essential to survival. That the battle kept them going.
Pi described Richard Parker as his “fierce companion”. He claimed that the tiger gave him something to look after, but most notably, kept him alert. Pi had to keep on his toes around the animal because tigers - not unlike pre-adolescent girls apparently - are moody creatures who snap and bite at will.
I’d like to think my friend and I had a closer relationship than Pi and Richard Parker - afterall, we had Barbies and sleepover parties - but this idea of not resting on one’s laurels, of knowing where your colleague is at - of what their standard is - can help you be a better you.
I was a better student when she was my standard; the reverse was equally true.
Yes, I’ve written about comparison being the root of all unhappiness before. And I do believe that. But equally, I think there’s something to be said for knowing what everyone’s up to; knowing what’s considered good. Because while I unquestionably hate it, good / fine / safe / happy don’t exist in a vacuum.