It’s Lonely On Top, In the Middle, On the Bottom.

a mountain
Image by Luke Jones / CC BY

I learned an important lesson very early on about jealousy and the dangers of pitting people against one other.

My first grade teacher hung a bulletin board in our classroom that she titled “King of the Mountain.”

She’d created a scene on poster board for it. The image was, predictably, a mountain.

On this mountain, she placed paper clouds. Each one had a classmate’s name on it. And of course there was one to represent me.

She placed us at different heights on the mountain based on our class performance. Our reading skills, math skills, etc.

I was at the top of the mountain. For months.

I remained there until one day my teacher went to work on the chart and discovered that a classmate had literally ripped me from the diagram. Crumpled my cloud up. Threw it on the floor.

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My teacher’s intention by posting the board had probably been to motivate us. To lure students into applying themselves academically by dangling the possibility of bragging rights. Something to strive for.

But that’s not at all what happened.

And not too long after my cloud was taken off, she took down the bulletin board, visibly frustrated.

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Perhaps there wouldn’t have been such a backlash if I hadn’t remained on the summit for so long. If there had been more of a back and forth at the top. There was a lot of action in the middle of the mountain, as people passed one another, up and then down and then back again.

But the peak was comparably quiet. Until it wasn’t.

It Isn’t Just Something That Happens in Childhood

It isn’t just something that happens in childhood.

For example, a similar pattern has been noted with employee recognition programs. They’re ostensibly there to motivate people to strive and do a better job at work. While this can sound sensible in theory, it usually doesn’t pan out that way. Instead, employee recognition programs tend to be demotivating overall, for the following reasons:

  • Many people who are not honored by the award end up feeling slighted and resentful.
  • Even if the honoree does feel a source of pride, they also will often be targeted by resentful peers because of the recognition and experience stress that undermines any sense of accomplishment.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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