[FOUNTAIN]The need to succeed can be a bad thing

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[FOUNTAIN]The need to succeed can be a bad thing

When two people have comparable abilities, their relative success in completing a task will be determined by willpower. This has also been called the “need for achievement.” The American psychologist David McClelland pointed out the importance of this human drive. The more one wants to achieve a goal, he said, the better one’s chance of doing so.
But problems can arise when the need for achievement is too strong. Mr. McClelland discovered this while observing sailors in the U.S. Navy as they got their ships ready to leave port. These sailors’ skill and motivation levels were essentially the same from vessel to vessel.
Because they had to compete with others with the same skills, some were violating the rules or stealing equipment from other ships. But because they got their ships ready to sail sooner, those who violated the rules were regarded as more competent. Ungentlemanly behavior and cunning negotiating skills were keys to success. Those with experience in the military will find this easy to understand.
This phenomenon is now occurring in Korean high schools. There have been cases in which students have stolen another classmate’s notebook, or torn pages out of it, to get ahead. Many students have been saying that the change in university admissions policy, placing more emphasis on high school grades, has turned classmates into competitors.
The reality is that most students think they have to get into the very best universities. This attitude is even more prevalent among their parents. It doesn’t matter whether we label it “need for achievement” or morbid tenacity. Whatever it is, it means the students are not unlike those American sailors who met their goals by hook or by crook.
Mr. McClelland described this attitude as totally different from the normal motivation to do well. As long as people have this characteristic, it will be hard to expect gentlemanly self-control in competition. How effective will the Ministry of Education be in telling the students to stop worrying so much about their studies when it was the ministry that incited this bloody competition? It was not the children who caused the problem.


by Nam Yoon-ho
The writer is the leader of the famiy news team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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