Touchy Topic Tuesday
"Everyone's a Winner"
About two weeks ago, my oldest daughter, Lilly, won an award for this year's Reflections contest at school. As it seems it ALWAYS is, the topic was "Diversity."
Lilly wrote a story about a girl named Rosabel who left her stove on so her house burned down. (I know- morbid, right? But it was her story, not mine, and I didn't want to interfere, so it is what it is.) Anyway, Rosabel's house had only pink flowers. In her search for a new house, Rosabel came across houses with blue, yellow, purple or red flowers, but not pink. At last, she found a house with all different colors of flowers, and learned to love the diversity in them. Lilly gets to send her story on to the state competition, and the principal had her read it out lout at the awards ceremony.
Of course, I was a very proud mama. And, of course, the minute we got home, I announced her success in my Facebook status. Dozens of "like"s and 18 very supportive comments later, a man I went to high school with posted the following:
"Awards seem tempting at first but are ultimately more damaging to everyone involved. I wish our society wasn't preoccupied with them. It took me 30 years to figure this out.
"And yet I am constantly confronted by the farce that is 'academia' only, ironically, because I value the knowledge and the collaborative ideas of the science that is only there while despising the honor thereof."
I replied, saying "I don't know. I think awards are healthy. What I think is damaging is when everyone wins. That's not how life works. People lose sometimes. It's damaging to teach our children that there's no competition. Our whole lives are competition."
To that, the man replied "Obviously, the notion of reward, instead of award, is very deep.
"Academy awards and Nobel Prizes sound very chic and special, but only perhaps because they attune us to our indigenous predisposition for worship of ourselves or our heroes. It is this enmity, this belief in impossible superhuman ability in others that is damaging. All your kid will ever remember is that he never will be superman. (ME HERE: this line is specifically regarding my mention of Mahone, who entered but did not win the award.)
"I know this because I was the kid who never won anything. I never got good grades in school, was never recognized, but was taught by my elders and peers to seek after awards. Every single one of my 7 siblings each fulfilled an august gamut of scholastic recognition, including invitations to honor orchestras, student of the month and other such nonsense. when the time came for my coming of age, the oversight was abrupt and the unspoken tradition fell flat before me. I felt this very keenly. My brothers and sister sang in the elite choirs and acted leading roles in plays, set athletic records and collected diverse state-level accolades. I only wish I knew then whaat I know now. I suppose some people will never learn and that is a solemn tragedy.
"Awards in themselves are shallow artifacts made of cheap moral foil that are given subjectively, often unfairly, and disproportionately used to justify entitlement, nobility, intelligence, creativity, beauty, exceptionality, quality or worth. They are false, extrinsic trinkets that venerate the work of a few winners, while the rest are passed over in broken silence--their effort and their travail unheeded.
"I hope that I can teach my children to never evaluate themselves against an arbitrary awards scale, to respect them because society does, but never judge themselves or other by them."
(You remember how I once mentioned that I must have a sign across my forehead that says "I enjoy listening to your controversial opinions? Please, let me have it? Well, here is proof. I, in my excitement for my daughter, share her story on Facebook, and get a lecture about how not only am I superficial, and am ruining my child by letting her be proud of herself for winning an award, but also, I am ruining my son because I subjected him to a contest he didn't win....hm.)
Now, never one to let someone demean my children and then have the last word, I, of course, responded in a very mama-bear manner that will not be posted here. (Mainly because I am about to discuss all the points I touched on anyway.)
What I believe in most is good sportsmanship. Upon winning her trophy, Lilly posed, smiling, for photos with the principal, and, seeing Mahone's disappointment at not winning a trophy himself, handed hers over for him to hold for the remainder of the ceremony. Lilly did not gloat, she did not rub it in or make him feel worse about not winning. Instead, she helped her brother feel better.
Likewise, I believe that it doesn't always have to be about ME (or them, as it were.) It doesn't matter if you feel slighted or if you did not do as well as you had hoped. If you have a friend or family member that is being celebrated, you suck it up, and you make their special day live up to it's potential. It doesn't matter if your younger sister is getting married before you. It doesn't matter if your brother's wife is having a baby shower and you are having trouble conceiving. It doesn't matter if your best friend got the lead in the play - the part YOU wanted. You have NO RIGHT to take their success and joy away from them by acting like a put upon baby. It is ridiculous for anyone to think that their sorrow is so vast that those who have reason to be happy and celebrate should tone it down or walk on egg shells. Mahone, through his sadness, and with a bit of prodding from me- but let's cut him some slack, he's five- was able to hug his sister and tell her congratulations. She had done a good job.
There was NO WAY I was going to take Lilly's deserved recognition away to save her brother from disappointment. Disappointment, in the real world, happens daily. At some point, a person will need to learn to deal with it. I, personally, prefer to confront that probability head on, as it comes, so that my child is able to cope in a healthy manner both while I am able to stand beside them and help where they need it, and when I am no longer here, and they must face the dismal scene on their own.
A few months back, I was involved in a discussion with a friend of mine who happens to be a high school drama teacher. She was saying that her choice of musical for the year had been rejected by the principal because there weren't enough leads. The school she teaches at will only support performances that have like-sized speaking parts for all characters.
Do you find that shocking? I do. When I was in high school, we auditioned for parts, and if we got one, great, if we didn't, too bad. I'm not going to go ahead and say it was fair- there was a large amount of politics involved in the choosing of students for parts, and it wasn't always fair, and I, feeling that I deserved roles that I did not receive, faced disappointment. And that's the way it was. The same process went for all sports, cheer leading, and other clubs and extracurricular activities.
Want to know what's even MORE shocking? The reason the principal refused to allow a play with few large roles is not because of the kids- it was because of the amount of PARENTS who, in the past, had called the school and DEMANDED that their child be given a part! Honestly, I find it appalling.
The fact of the matter IS, this is how life WORKS. We are here to teach our children that! We are SUPPOSED to help them navigate the waters of disappointment in a healthy way- not protect them from every tiny unfairness! You see, for months, my husband has interviewed for jobs he was well qualified for, and for months they were given to other people. I do know for a fact that some of those jobs were given unjustly. But Brandon's mother can't just call into the office for him and demand that he be given the promotion he deserves. Brandon cannot call and tell them that this is unfair, they had better give him this job. Sounds ludicrous, doesn't it? Well, so is this generation's idea that we must protect our children from everything- everyone wins, or no one does.
When I was in third grade, I was involved in a machine pitch baseball team. And I've got to be honest, here- I was a real bonehead about the sport. At practice, I'd sit in the outfield and pull up grass with my cleats. I couldn't hit to save my life- in fact, I got hit by the ball on several occasions, and most of the time, I just stood around, punching my mitt with my tiny fist. But my team mates and I DID keep score. None of the coaches did, though, and my particular coach was a great, supportive man with a winning smile and praise for everyone- even the head-and-shoulders-shorter-than-everyone-else girl who couldn't run, hit, or catch. (And really, at the ripe old age of 8, I appreciated that, because there has to be a balance. I was a kid. I did NOT need quite the competition of a high school baseball team- however, I would lose respect for any coach who, fearing to hurt a 16 year old's feelings, kept a kid on the team who sucked at the game as badly as I did.) While I was terrible, the boy on my team, for their age, were fantastic! It so happened that out of the whole season, we lost only two games.
At the end of the season, every child who ever donned a "Utah Parks and Recreations" t-shirt got a trophy. I felt two ways about this- "Ohhh! A shiny trophy!" and "Wait....everyone gets one?" I very specifically remember standing there in the spring rainstorm that happened that day, thinking that it was kind of lukewarm to have gotten that trophy. Symbolic, yes- a memento of a pretty fun season of baseball. BUT, it wasn't a source of pride or accomplishment because earned or not, everyone got one.
Everyone wins. Truly, I feel that this mentality is only setting our children up to fail. One must learn to deal with disappointment, mourn the loss/lack of success, and then move on and try again. Not everyone CAN win. In Lilly's case, only 5 students from each category get to move on to state level. There were over 90 submissions all together. SOME judgement had to happen. All 90 submissions could not go on, and even if they did, not all of the thousands of submissions from other students in other schools could win either. In a play, not everyone can be the lead. And not everyone can be given the job that only one person is needed for.
So, what do you think? Exactly how far should we protect our children? When does it stop? Would YOU call the school and demand that your child's teacher change his grade or give him a place on the football team? If you would, how, exactly, do you justify that mentality? Please tell us how you feel!
For a small bit of humor, this School answering machine was taken from an Australian High School where such issues were a big problem. It's funny, but it's real, and they have a point.
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