Letters: Competition can be the loser

These letters appear in the Saturday 26th April edition of the Independent

 

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As one of the anti-competitive left mentioned in your editorial of 22 April, I’d like to stand up for Xenophanes.

Competition against others is often meaningless; if you win, it could be because they are having a bad day; or you could creditably surpass yourself and come last in a brilliant field. Differences in sporting performance may be minuscule, but the glory goes to a single victor. Recall the devastation of some Olympic silver medallists who scored only a fraction of a point less than the winner.

High achievers will still make scientific breakthroughs and execute works of art because they are determined to do as well as they possibly can. They compete against their own previous best. Our young people should be encouraged to do what they do because it’s worth doing, not because they might secure plaudits for what may be a pointless exercise.

Determination to come out on top has given us: the demeaning bear garden of Prime Minister’s Question Time; footballers who are paid more in a week than others are in 10 years; and an economic system that increasingly rewards the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor.

Susan Alexander, Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire

The writer of your editorial clearly hasn’t read Margaret Heffernan’s recent book A Bigger Prize – why competition isn’t everything. She makes a convincing case that on the whole competition undermines rather than motivates school pupils. The few winners may come out well, but the rest, believing they will not reach the top, are likely to make less effort in their studies.

Sure, it is good if we strive to do better than we did last time, but it is not necessary to set one pupil against another, or one school against another, to achieve good results. We may have gained in art and science as a result of competition over the years, but let us not discount the profound ill effects that unbridled competition brings. On the whole, co-operation is a more grown-up, intelligent and humane way of living.

John Gamlin, East Bergholt, Suffolk

The sport of baiting cold callers

I was initially delighted to read of Sean O’Grady’s approach to cold calling (“Don’t hang up on a cold caller”, 24 April) but this soon turned to disappointment when I realised that my personal best of six minutes 20 seconds keeping one of these pests on the line is as nothing compared with his 43 minutes. Respect!

I urge Independent readers not already engaged in this sport to take it up. And if you’re stuck for conversation, ask your cold caller who their client is, what the data will be used for and whether they are conducting their “research” in accordance with the Market Research Code of Conduct. They should then provide a free phone number to enable you to check their status.

Beryl Wall, London W4

Sean O’Grady tells us what a hoot he has wasting the time of cold callers. As a former cold caller, allow me to tell you some truths.

No one wants to do it; we do it because we have to. It is an awful job enduring abuse all day. Treating us badly does nothing to hurt the businesses that employ us, it just hurts us. I always let down cold callers quickly and with courtesy.

Sean Nee, Edinburgh

TV drama with Authentic mumbling

Instead of being criticised, the director of the BBC’s Jamaica Inn and the actor playing Joss Merlyn should be praised for an authentic characterisation. They have obviously referred back to Daphne du Maurier’s book, where Aunt Patience attempts to reassure Mary Yellan: “Your Uncle must be humoured, you know; he has his ways, and strangers don’t understand him at first.”

John E Orton, Bristol

Amid the brickbats thrown at the BBC for mumbling in the recent TV Jamaica Inn, let’s give Auntie a huge bouquet for the wonderful Radio 3 performance of Antony and Cleopatra on 20 April. Kenneth Branagh, Alex Kingston and the rest of the cast gave full measure to every spell-binding word of Shakespeare’s poetry. Words do matter, but only the steam radio seems to know it.

Jane Jakeman, Oxford

Reasons for a drop in crime

Your editorial of 24 April suggests that the downward trend in violent crime may be due to alcohol having become more expensive relative to earnings. But an even more important influence may be closed-circuit television cameras.

You can now hardly do anything or go anywhere without being recorded, and anyone contemplating a crime knows this. No one really likes snooping cameras, but they may be helping to keep us safe.

Richard Bass, Leigh, Surrey

Union’s democratic decision-making

To claim, as Mark Leftly does, that Mark Serwotka “seized control” of the Public and Commercial Services union is just absurd (Westminster Outlook, 18 April).

The truth is that in 2000 Mark won a democratic election of the union’s membership and Barry Reamsbottom, whose name was not on the ballot paper, tried to cling on to his former position, vacating it only when ordered to do so by a High Court judge after we had been forced to initiate a legal challenge.

The possibility of a merger has been suggested precisely because, thankfully, we are now a union that aims to build the most effective possible trade union fightback against damaging cuts and privatisation. Decisions on merger will be made by our members after a full, open and democratic process.

Janice Godrich, National President, Public and Commercial Services Union, London SW11

The raunchy side of solar energy

The photograph above a short article on the first page of last week’s Your Money section caught my eye. The article was about a scheme to invest in solar energy for schools. The photograph showed a group of young women dressed in mini skirts and stockings with the caption: “The sun could shine on St Trinian’s under a solar panel scheme for schools.” This looks like  a cheap way of “spicing up” the Your Money section.

Patricia Bartley, York

Patron saint of Anatolia?

Amid all the gentle humour surrounding the origins of England’s national saint, can we at least stop referring to St George as a “Turk” (letter, 25 April). This is an anachronism on a par with calling an ancient Briton an Englishman, or an Aztec an American.

The influx of Turks into Anatolia, and its subsequent definition as Turkey, occurs largely from the 11th century onwards. Polyglot Greek, Palestinian, Levantine – the one thing St George is definitely not, by over 500 years, is a Turk.

Christopher Dawes, London W11

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