Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mediocre Stars

For years, people have been complaining that there is too much unwarranted positive affirmation in our society: kids getting trophies just for playing, etc. Of course, this all started with the idea that it is good to give little kids a self-esteem, the kite can't take flight unless we run with it a little, but then it takes off on its own into the sky. That kind of thing.

If it all works properly, everyone is a "star" for a little and the talented ones sort themselves out from the others as time goes on. I thought it was great that my kids, playing T-ball baseball got little participation trophies. They, like all of the kids, spent the season picking their noses and sitting down in the grass in the middle of an inning and when they were active, they ran from home to third or converged on ground balls in bunches of nine or ten, collided and fell, belly laughing to the ground. The trophies were to say: "See!? You participated and you got something good. Trying gets a reward..." A good thing, I long as it doesn't go on too long.

If it goes on too long (and it does), mediocre people feel entitled to things just because they worked hard. Here, the theories break down. We all know hard work, in and of itself, despite the tears of American Idol audition rejects,  is not rewarded in the real world; results are.

Maybe this is all fun to rant about in terms of principles and in terms of how things used to be "in the old days," but, there is a real danger in all of it, too. It's bad to elevate the mediocre, because as soon as one puts a mediocre person in the stratosphere, that mediocre person is unequipped to deal with it. Only exceptional people can handle exceptional societal elevation.

Mediocre Rock Star may not be intelligent enough; he may not be strong enough; he may not be mature enough; he may not be complex enough to deal with the challenges "stardom" presents him with. If this is the case, personal disaster can follow.

This post was inspired by a local news story. I saw a picture of a (and I quote) "football star" from a local high school. This picture was professionally done. He was posing like the pros: immaculate, state-of-the-art uniform; an earring sparkling in each ear and his face set in a confident big-man-on-campus half grin. But he wasn't in the paper for breaking his school's rushing record or for having been signed by a major team. He was in the paper because he punched a girl in the nose.

I can't, with any certainty, say what caused this kid to act this way. (And, as far as I know, social values haven't shifted quite to the point that it is okay for a guy to punch a girl in the beezer.) But, could it all be a result of this kid thinking his refuse isn't noxious? Have his elders elevated his sense of importance so much that he fears no repercussions. Does he think he is special because he is a good high school football player? If he does, it is probably not his fault. His situation is the result of the low expectations and disproportionate rewards we dole out to convince kids who are just pretty good that they are truly exceptional.

All early-onset curmudgeons like me think back to the golden days I suppose. But there was value in not winning; there was value in playing on ratty fields up until high school, at which point the fields just got less ratty and not astro-turfed with giant electronic score boards. Reward was proportionate to deeds. None of us got to play in a professional-quality stadium at the age of eight. There was a feeling of earning in all of it that I fear is disappearing. Little leaguers should not have air-conditioned dugouts.

As I said, I don't know the dynamics of what happened to this kid, but it did get me thinking about the dangers of elevating the mediocre. People who think they are better than they are punch others in the proverbial nose all of the time.

No comments:

Post a Comment