Does contemporary culture place too much emphasis on mere symbols of achievement? A recent New York Times op-ed essay thinks so, making the case that so-called “losing” is good for us. Especially for kids.
Ashley Merryman began with this:
AS children return to school this fall and sign up for a new year’s worth of extracurricular activities, parents should keep one question in mind. Whether your kid loves Little League or gymnastics, ask the program organizers this: “Which kids get awards?” If the answer is, “Everybody gets a trophy,” find another program.
Merryman goes on to make the case that the current fashion of making sure no one feels left out actually undercuts self-esteem and de-motivates effort.
To be fair, “kids today” didn’t demand all this constant flattery. As with so many things, lapses of that sort (if you find them mis-guided, as I do) are really the fault of parents, or a larger society that caters to narcissism.
Merryman describes how she would change the everyone-gets-a-trophy atmosphere:
If I were a baseball coach, I would announce at the first meeting that there would be only three awards: Best Overall, Most Improved and Best Sportsmanship. Then I’d hand the kids a list of things they’d have to do to earn one of those trophies. They would know from the get-go that excellence, improvement, character and persistence were valued.
I like what is being rewarded in her scenario. Kids actually do know (and often care about) who emerges as the “best” athlete. Only a few star players will be in the running for that distinction. But everyone can shoot for improvement. And if good sportsmanship is not part of the program that’s a big problem right there. Teamwork, compassion, self-improvement and sportsmanship are all traits worth fostering.
In that respect, her essay may be mislabeled. It’s not about losing. It’s about how we play, work or interact.
Issues of recognition and reward are not confined to the world of sport. They spill into many aspects of life. When still parenting a school-aged child, I could paper the walls with the achievement certificates that were seemingly handed out like confetti. I found it excessive. But who dares be the Grinch and insist that praise fire hose be turned down?
‘Twas ever thus, I suppose. I’m a “boomer” (born between 1946-1964). That alone puts me on the stodgy side of any “trophies for all” debate. And the generation that reared me, shaped by depression and war, was even more conservative about self-expression and expectations of recognition or reward.
Maybe it’s just something that can’t be changed and must simply be understood. Witness the wide span of articles about how different generations co-exist or clash in the workplace, as a result of diverse expectations.
I mentioned this topic as a possible post to NCPR webmaster Dale Hobson (another boomer).
As usual, he said something illuminating that I’d like to quote: “Competition has a very limited scope in actual living. I don’t win or lose each day at work. I co-operate and collaborate with others to accomplish an end, to make something. Who wins or loses at making dinner, or taking the kids to soccer practice?”
So here’s the question: is there a baseline for praise that’s wise and wholesome? Or does that depend on your own generational view and what current culture expects?