Monday, February 6, 2012

Musings On the Consequences Of The Participation Trophy

The goal of each generation, it seems, has been to make life easier for the generation before it.  Great Grandpa did what he had to do during The Depression so his son could eat.  Grandpa went to war and came back to a manufacturing job so his son could go to college.  Dad works 10-12 hours a day and makes a lot of money so that we don’t have to work for anything and get to suspend adulthood and play video games all day.  Great.

Unfortunately the easier life is the softer we get.  I am of a mind that easier is not better.  Having zero hardships in life is worse than being presented obstacles and overcoming them.  I would rather solve a problem on my own than be given an answer.  I want to be self-reliant.  I want to stare down a gauntlet and know I have what it takes to come out the other side.

The attitude and mind set I’m trying to describe comes in many forms.  Learned helplessness, entitlement, non-resilience, you get the picture.  People are getting softer and softer.  People are getting dumber and dumber.  All you have to do is turn on MTV or VH1 or talk to the average high school student for a few minutes.  No one wants to work for anything.  Everyone wants to be given something for nothing.

If I were president I would make a few changes to how things are run.  I would get rid of political correctness.  Some people are smarter than others.  Some people are stronger than others.  Some people are willing to work harder than others.  People are not all alike.  Some people are better than others.  Some people are winners and some are losers. 

The Ultimate Warrior’s (yes, from the WWF days) attitude is that taking from those that “DO” and giving to those that “DON’T” is not “fair” and just teaches people to subsist off of others.  I tend to agree.

I would make participation trophies illegal.  And maybe this is the whole crux of the problem.    You want a trophy?  Go out and win something.  You don’t get anything for just showing up.  Showing up is a minimum requirement.  It is not something that should be rewarded.  Mark my words, “No child of mine will receive nor accept a participation trophy.”

I distinctly remember two trophies from my childhood.  One was for fourth place in the Pinewood Derby during my only year as a Boy Scout.  The other was a participation trophy everyone got at the end of flag football in fourth grade.  I remember being extremely proud of the Derby trophy.  I earned it.  And I’m pretty sure I gave the flag football one away.  It lost all value when the kid that picked his nose and didn't do an athletic thing all season got the same one.  I did not play a second year of flag football.  I’m not sure there has been a worse invention in the history of anything than the participation trophy. 
You know what's fun?  Winning.
The real world does not hand out trophies.  You don’t get anything because you paid your bills.  You don’t get anything because you graduated from college.  With grading on a curve running rampant these days you probably didn’t even deserve that.  There is a reason why graduation ceremonies are called “Commencement”.  It means beginning.  And for most it is only the beginning of their real education.

Some go on to the School of Hard Knocks and some get lucky.  That’s life. 

Coming out of college I thought I knew it all.  Then I spent some time around people who were a lot smarter, or at least knew more, than I and I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t know shit.  But I didn’t hold up my degree and say, “Wait a minute here.  I’ve got a degree so let me tell you a thing or two…”  No, I started doing my own research and self-study.  I wanted to be better than my degree so I took it upon myself to do so.  And here’s the thing about the smart people and the winners, they realize they don’t know everything.  They know there are people out there who know more than them.  But instead of resorting to jealousy and small-mindedness they seek them out and learn.  They don’t feel ENTITLED to anything, ESPECIALLY a job.

Socrates said, “I know one thing, that I know nothing.” 

This may sound cold-hearted but I think we should go back to the days of government provided shoes/clothing and cheese.  No more checks from the State to use for whatever you want.  You are given government food and clothing.  And knowing the government the shoes will be god-awful ugly and the cheese will fill your nutritional requirements but taste like shit.  That way those that are on the government rolls will have motivation to be off.  Sort of an Anti-Participation Trophy.

And I’ve had very close friends collect unemployment for a long time.  But them’s the breaks.
Part of the problem is that people are unwilling to do jobs they feel are below them.  No one wants to work menial jobs that don’t utilize your skills and potential.  But when you’re sitting down to your fifth night in a row of Washington cheese and crackers what options do you have?  Life isn’t fair.  Einsteins and Mozarts probably die unrecognized and unfulfilled every single day.  To quote a wise man, “The world needs ditch diggers too.”

The world is a cold, cruel place.  I’m only 27 years old and I’ve already come to that realization.  I could disappear in an instant and not a thing would change.  The world would just continue going on without me like it has for the millions of years before I was around.  I am not a unique snowflake.  If I want something to happen I have to make it happen.  Whining won’t cure anything.  We have to be doers, not be-ers.

OK, rant over.  But in all seriousness there is definitely an attitude of entitlement in this country.  You can blame the schools or the government or the media or whatever but the real culprit is ourselves.  We’ve been told from day one how special we are, how smart we are, how we are going to change the world!  And we believed it.  We let ourselves sink into the trap of constant positive reinforcement that, when it stops, we don’t know how to deal with it.  We let other people solve our problems for us that when a situation arises that requires some grit and determination there is little to go around.  People quit jobs because they don’t get enough pats on the back from their superiors.  We need to grow-the-fuck-up.

It would be too easy to say it was our baby boomer parents that did this to us.  After all they were the ones doling out the positive reinforcement when we didn’t deserve it.  They were the ones that said everyone should get a trophy for being there. 

It would be easy to say that they got the concept of self-esteem backwards.  Telling kids that they are special and great and totally cool and then hoping they do good things and have a high self-esteem is putting the horse before the cart.  Kids need to do good things and then be told they did a good job.  For that a slight nod of the head and a firm handshake is plenty.

But blaming our parents or our own cushy upbringing would be exactly what everyone else would expect us to say.  Sure it was nice to be coddled when we were growing up but we’re adults now.  And adults behave like adults.  Adults solve their own problems.  Adults don’t expect anything to be given to them.  Adults work for and earn everything they have.

I dated a girl in college who came from a well-to-do family.  Let’s just say that with her situation she didn’t need to take out student loans.  Coming from a working class, blue-collar family I did need the student loans as well as summer manufacturing jobs to help pay my way.  One day she said, “I really feel bad for you. You have to pay for this stuff by yourself.”  Excuse me?  I didn’t know it at the time but I knew that there was something to be gained from having to earn your place at an institute of higher learning.  I knew the value of work and what it could help me do. 

Don’t take this as some diatribe that being blue-collar is some holier-than-thou way of life.  It doesn’t really matter where or what you come from.  What matters is your outlook on life and what kind of value you put into the work you do.  Sure, good things happen to lazy people and some people will never live a rough day in their life.  Assholes win the lottery every single day.  So-the-fuck-what?  You’re going to point to that and say, “Screw it!  I give up!”?  You still have to get up tomorrow morning so why not make the most of it and do something positive?

In all reality I could have boiled down the last 1500+ words into this: If you really want something then go out and earn it.  GO OUT AND WIN IT!  Where there is a will, there is a way.  Do something every day to make the you of today better than yesterday’s version.

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1 comment:

  1. I completely agree man, my finally has been on the edge of poverty since I can remember. Everything I have I've had to struggle for, and earn, it has definitely been a fight, and I care for no ones pity. At the same time I realize that everything I don't have yet, is by my doing as well, I could be living like a fat cat on big stacks if I wanted to, I just haven't applied myself to do it yet. Honestly though, I really pity those who were born with gold and platinum spoons in their mouth, because they're really the ones who have a disillusioned view of the real world.