By way of full disclosure, I’m not a regular viewer to HBO’s “Real Sports,” but I made it a point to tune in this week because the show was doing a report about a scourge of the modern world I’m passionate about: the menace of urban bicycle riders. But what moved the needle for me much more was a report about a scourge that is far, far more damaging to our quality of life.
The participation trophy.
The proliferation of participation trophies might sound harmless enough in theory. Kids sports are supposed to be funtivities that often get taken over by crazed, uber-competitive adults with delusions of grandeur who make it miserable for everyone. Childhood is supposed to a happy time. Give everyone a trophy to make them feel good about themselves. No harm. No foul.
Except it’s one of the worst things you can do for your kids. Reward them for being terrible and you tell them that being terrible is something that should be rewarded. It teaches them that there’s no need to strive for anything. No reason to push yourself to do better. Zero incentive to do anything but sit there and wait for life to hand you everything you want because it’s your birthright. It goes against the laws of nature and every animal instinct.
Existence is about competition. Since the first day apes climbed down out of trees into the tall grass and learned to walk upright in search of food, right up through biblical times, to Genghis Khan and the World Wars, it’s been deep in the human race to try to outdo each other, compete for resources and take what others have. For better or worse, that’s what’s driven the ascent of humankind. If your tribe sat around expecting the Great Coach in the Sky to hand you water, fire, grains and animal hides, you quickly became food for buzzards.
But that’s what, for the first time in human history, we are telling this generation of kids. Fail miserably, don’t try, don’t work to improve and we’ll give you a prize. And if you think these billion tiny gestures of kindness aren’t going to turn them into self-entitled, incorrigible, spoiled little monsters, you’re living in a fantasy world. There’s a whole globe full of kids getting stronger every day by learning how to cope in a world of limited resources while our kids get used to being told that their worst is plenty good enough.
Catch the segment where the woman talks about giving participation trophies to athletes all the way up to 19 years old. Or the trophy company that began as literally a mom and pop store that now does $50 million a year in sales, the vast majority of which is now prizes for achieving nothing. They’re “Big Trophy” now, and we gave them a monopoly on our children’s psyches.
Roll those around in your mind and weep for your nation as I do. Because simply put, when everyone is special, then nobody is.
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