All my life I’ve had people building me up. Whether it was my mom telling me how I was most brilliant boy in the entire neighborhood, or the well-meaning teachers telling me to believe in myself and I could accomplish anything.
But, now that I am a man, the people I am most thankful for are the ones who 1.) assured me that I was nowhere near as accomplished as I could (or should) be, and 2.) upbraided me for squandering my God-given potential to simply “coast” or settle for the bare minimum.
I’ve got five young children, and I love each of them more than life itself, but I do them just as much a disservice in minimizing their faults than if I were to belittle their accomplishments. Just as I don’t expect my 2-year-old to be quoting Shakespeare, neither am I going to give my 13-year-old a gold star sticker just for washing the dishes.
Human beings, consisting largely of water ourselves, are so much like water in that our tendency is to seek the path of least resistance. To get from point A to point B with the least amount of strain. To barely meet the bar. To just get by.
C.S. Lewis’s immortal literary creation “Screwtape” says it best (in explaining how he and his Satanic brethren hope to bring about the damnation of society) that they should busy themselves “reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back,” and thus he and his fellow demons, “shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread conceit and ignorance among” mankind.
When we celebrate mediocrity, we motivate downward. When everybody gets a trophy… who needs to try? This truly is a new phenomenon in our country. Most folks over the age of 50 would agree that they never received trophies and awards that they did not earn. Today, if everybody doesn’t get a trophy, it is as if we have done something terribly wrong and we are damaging their self-esteem. That is complete hogwash.
When we celebrate mediocrity, we accomplish three very problematic things in our children’s lives. First, we discourage work ethic. Work ethic is developed in response to adversity in a process. Another word for this is perseverance. As we know from the book of James, this is the engine for the development of maturity. The second thing we accomplish is promoting the wrong notion that everything must be “fair.” This illusion that we often support throughout childhood will come crashing down when our children get into the real world. Fairness is neither a healthy ideal to pursue, nor a state that can ever be achieved. The third thing is a sense of entitlement or the notion that everyone should have whatever they want.
For years the term I have used with parents is “economic justice.” Economic justice is described in two ways. First, “Because I want something, I should have the right to have it.” Secondly, “If you have it, I should also have it.” “Even if you worked for it and I didn’t, I should have it.” This idea has eroded parenting and the healthy upbringing of our children for more than half a century.
A few weeks back my eldest daughter was disappointed that she didn’t get more playing time during her middle school basketball game. I responded that any coach worth their salt wants the five best players on the floor for as much as possible. If my daughter wanted more playing time, I told her to spend more hours practicing her jumper instead of drawing pictures of unicorns.
We need to allow our children to fail. In school, in sports, in relationships, in life. Allow them small failures when they’re young, and they will be equipped to handle and even avoid large failures when they’re older. Parents and educators need to stop saving them all the time, telling them, “It’s okay this time, but don’t do it again.” Because you know what? If you do that, it’s NOT okay and they WILL do it again.
We’re indoctrinating an entire generation of dependence and entitlement, evidenced by an attitude that everything good in their lives is because they deserve it and everything bad is someone else’s fault.
At the same time, I believe everyone has abilities and skills that they can develop in becoming the best people they can be — but not everyone is gifted at everything. If you want to be successful in an area outside of your current skills, you’d be better get busy and get good.
You’re only as good as the good you do.