I honestly thought that the trophy thing was over but I read it again recently. This time it was Mike Rowe, fixture in Ford commercials and host of Dirty Jobs, answering a letter from a fan. But this has become a staple of op ed columnists who are doing us the favor of pointing out what’s wrong with the kids these days. You know what it is? It’s that they were all told they were special and they all got a trophy! So, we have entire generations of kids who simply don’t get it. Well it’s time for some tough love from a guy who hosts a television show for a living.
In a world where everyone gets a trophy, encouragement trumps honesty, and realistic expectations go out the window.
Look, obviously children should not be told that they are special. Children are supposed to be beaten by their fathers who are eight scotches deep trying to blot out the memories of what they did in Normandy for Uncle Sam. Everyone knows that.
But I’d like to share something to dispel this myth of the insidious trophy.
I used to cry when I struck out in little league. No joke. And I struck out a lot. It was a nice cocktail of embarrassment and frustration. I was on my first little league team in either fourth or fifth grade and we were a really good. I, however, played in right field which is where you put the kids that can’t play as right field exists for fly balls from the ever elusive left batting little leaguer.
We got to the playoffs and we won the championship. I got a trophy at the end of it.
I received the trophy at an end of the year banquet. The trophies were placed on a table at the front of the banquet hall. There were hundreds of them, each of them identical. And I thought, “wait a minute, everyone gets one?”
Kids aren’t stupid. I knew, even then, some basic eleven year old economics. I knew that the only reason Ken Griffey Jr.’s Upper Deck rookie card was worth so much was because not everyone had one. (The economics of my thirties would reveal that everyone did, in fact, have a Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck rookie card and I learned a harsh lesson about bubbles in markets but I digress.) So, if everyone got a trophy, they must not be worth anything. Furthermore, I cried after every strikeout! I barely caught any pop flies. I get one?
Yes. I did get one. I went up to the table with my team and received my trophy. I took this thing that I didn’t deserve and I looked at it. I turned it over in my hands. It was mounted on a piece of particle board with a finish. There was a plastic golden baseball player swinging a bat. It was plastic. It was a trinket. The trophy seemed both literally and figuratively worthless, even as a kid.
I have to admit that I am picking on Mike Rowe right now. I took one sentence out of a much longer essay. If you read his full piece, it actually contains some good advice. There may be a downside to following your dreams and never giving up. You may find a limit to your progress with your dream. I honestly can’t disagree with that.
I can, however, disagree with empty tough love pieces revealing nothing except platitudes that most of us accept already. “You know with American Idol, anyone thinks they can be famous!” Oh really? Thanks for blowing my mind.
A byproduct of our modern age is that anyone can blog about something and pretend to be a self made expert. (The irony of that last statement has been noted.) Much like the way that votes on American Idol don’t grant talent to anyone, the low barrier to publishing your philosophy doesn’t require you have anything original to say.
So, what is wrong with the kids these days? Is it that they were told they were special and expect everything to just fall in their laps? Or perhaps, just maybe, there has been a fundamental shift in almost everything we do. Our economy, our access to information, our communication, our social interaction, and our entertainment have all changed radically.
I barely even understand how anyone makes money anymore. Think about the things that we use daily. Facebook, twitter, wikipedia: they’re all free. The blogging software I am using right now is free. It is built with an open source language called php which is also available for free. U2, one of the highest earning bands in the twentieth century, just gave their latest album away for free. Print media is dying. Television commercials are no longer the cash cow they once were.
I was born in 1977. I can’t tell you if that makes me a Gen-X or a Gen-Y or what (it changes depending on the article). But I do know that I am in the generation of people who hold a job that didn’t exist when they were born. Hell, my job didn’t exist when I was in high school. Things have changed and are continuing to change so fast that we’re all just trying to find a place where we fit.
Small towns are too depressed to support a local business that isn’t Walmart and big city rent is so high that the only businesses that can survive are national chains. Meanwhile everyone is burdened by the college loans they took on just to be able to try to compete in the modern job market.
Now I’m becoming guilty of my own pet peeve, so, I’ll step off of the soap box. Modern life is full of problems and I can’t suggest any easy solutions. But whatever it is that’s wrong, I can assure you it has nothing to do with everyone getting a trophy.