A Fetish for Excellence
This piece has been written by Parv Kaushik (Batch of 2021).
With the last of the Univs behind us, it is important for us to reassess what we’ve taken these Univs to symbolise.
As an institution that has, over the years, churned out a plethora of people whom one would term “studly”, the bar was set pretty high. At some level, their achievements became more of a metric for self-evaluation. Being in the top 10 of your batch didn’t feel like so much of an objectively great achievement (something worth praising and working towards), as it did a necessary prerequisite for your academic record to be of any value. Winning a moot became the only culmination of a 5 month long process to have any value. It is important to stress here, that the idea isn’t that winning an international moot or being in the top 10 of your batch isn’t great and the result of a lot of hard work. The idea is that we as a community attach an inordinate amount of value to these achievements. More importantly, when we start projecting these achievements onto others, we’re playing a dangerous game.
The necessary consequence of continuously highlighting and showcasing these achievements is self deprecation. Because it doesn’t matter that you loved the 5 month mooting experience, learnt a lot and got genuinely hooked onto the area of law. In the eyes of most people, these are mere by-products, things you tell yourself to feel good. For you, none of it makes sense unless you win. How we treat people who win tournaments or the like, is a quintessential case of “sar par chadhana“. As I said, the achievements of our peers and alumni, have become a metric of self evaluation. Getting a top 20 rank in Univs has been given such a stature, that anything below that is perceived as a necessary indicator of your ineptitude and incompetence.
People shouldn’t have to cry in self loathing and devastation because they won’t be stamping their passports on college money. Juniors shouldn’t have to come up to seniors saying that they feel like they aren’t doing well enough in law school because they aren’t acing moots or debates like their batchmate X. The burden of winning that we have created is immense. It makes people think lesser of themselves if they don’t. Seniors need to start being more responsible in terms of setting the right tone. We need to stop, in jest or otherwise, calling first years lame for not doing moot univs. We need to stop sending in teams with the burden of winning. It is nerve racking to go into competitions with the burden of performing as well as the teams before you. We need to break this fetish for excellence. We need to start telling juniors that putting their best possible foot forward has inherent value.
To assuage any triggered mooters or debaters, the point here isn’t that there isn’t skill involved in what you do and that it’s merely a matter of you getting lucky. There is value to the skills you possess and effort required in what you have achieved. The point is, those skills aren’t the only thing that have value, nor are they necessarily more important than others. This isn’t a personal call-out of you for having personally contributed to this fetishism (at least not for the vast majority of you :P). This is a call-out of a culture that makes students feel that there are only a fixed number of avenues to make their law school life be of value. It is a call-out of a culture which, to some extent, might even make people participate in activities simply so that other people think that they’re worth something. Our obsession with having our names plastered on a board (*cough* *cough* SDGM), makes having your name on the board the pinnacle of any achievement.
Finally, we need to stop selling ourselves as “studs”. The moment we do that, we will remove the perverse incentive that pushes juniors into doing “studly” things. Let us create an environment where people wouldn’t want to hide in their rooms because it took other people three whole scrolls on their phones to get to their rank. Be appreciative and proud of all the mooters, debaters and ADRers (?) who’ve done brilliantly, but also have some appreciation for the people who gave it the best they could. Their best is of value too. It is about time we recognised it.