In case you missed it, there is some great discussion going on around the last post, which was mainly a link to this article. The main topic of interest to myself and the commenters was this seeming paradox between our society’s push towards telling everyone they are “special,” while simultaneously minimizing competition and downplaying both strengths and weaknesses of individual people so that no one feels badly.
Last night our four-year-old son Silas went to “sports camp” at the park where they had a little track meet for the campers. Silas came home with a [plastic] gold medal around his neck that said “Winner,” and I was immediately suspicious. Did everyone get a gold medal? My husband Nathan said that Silas won the long jump. I still wasn’t sure that meant anything in particular. Maybe all the kids “won” the long jump simply because they jumped. But upon further inquiry, I learned that Silas indeed was the first-place long jumper. He also showed me a purple “participant” ribbon that he (and all the other kids) won for participating, and a third-place ribbon for another event in which he actually won third place. I was relieved that our local parks and recreation department is not afraid of competition like the coach who was interviewed in the article. (And of course I was also proud of my little guy!)
About an hour later our seven-year-old daughter Luthien came home and saw Silas’s gold medal around his neck. Her first response was an indignant, “What? Where did he get that? That’s not fair! I didn’t get one!”
I explained that Silas had won the medal in his track event. “But that makes me feel bad, Mom, because I didn’t get a medal!” she insisted. And again today, she came across Silas’s ribbons and was freshly outraged at the thought that he won awards which she did not.
Hopefully she will work through this and grow into adulthood with an ability to both celebrate the beauty and excellence and forgive the failings of herself and everyone else.
I do believe that everyone is special. Or perhaps unique, as Jodi noted in her comments on the last post. For some reason, we often equate the word “special” with the idea of being more important. But really the word means very much the same as “unique,” and it shares a root with “species.” Each of us is, in a way, a singular species. No one of us is more important than any other, or self-sufficient, but each of us does have strengths and weaknesses which can be celebrated and forgiven, respectively. Celebrated and forgiven. Not minimized, qualified, smoothed out and laden with disclaimers.