It’s become fashionable to observe that we have adopted a societal philosophy of, “Everybody gets a medal!” This shift in mindset is driven by our need to ensure that, “everyone’s OK”. In fact, if memory serves, there was a book published back in the 1970’s entitled, “I’m OK, You’re OK”, which I never had the opportunity to read, but, if I had to guess, it was of the self-help, feel-good, affirmation genre. It was published at the dawn of the “Everybody gets a medal” movement.
Now, I haven’t collected a ton of trophies and medals over the years, but I’ve earned a few: some for baseball, some for football, even some for ballroom dancing – yeah, that’s right, ballroom dancing. Growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, these trophies and medals were awarded for winning. In fact, I can vividly recall not earning a trophy as a member of the first baseball team on which I played. The tradition, in my hometown, was for the manager to treat the entire team to ice cream at “Homer’s Ice Cream”, after winning a game. My team lost every single game that season, until the very last game, which we won. Yep, we headed to “Homer’s” for triple-dip ice cream cones; we were making up for a lot of ice cream-less Saturday’s.
In contrast, my kids collected a lot more hardware than I did, as they toiled on fields of sport in the 1990’s and 2000’s. I’m not even sure kids learn ballroom dancing, anymore. Many of these medals were “participation trophies”, in which every kid who played earned an award. The idea was that kids would feel badly if they didn’t win a medal. I think the opposite is true: a trophy awarded simply for participating offers little value to the participant; there is no sense of accomplishment. When managing tee-ball and young baseball teams, in which we didn’t keep score, lest we identify winners and losers, I was often asked by the kids, “Did we win today?” They knew who won the game; they kept score in their heads, even thought the final score was not recorded for posterity in a scorebook.
What’s wrong with a bit of healthy competition? The lesson that there are are winners and there are losers in a contest is a pretty useful lesson to learn, as youngsters prepare for life in the real world. And, winning is a pretty nice feeling. We should all be afforded the opportunity to experience “. . .the thrill of victory. . .”, as highlighted by ABC’s Wide World of Sports program back in the 1970’s. And, there’s value in getting a taste of “. . .the agony of defeat. . .”, as is also reflected in that same show introduction. However, I wouldn’t wish anyone to truly experience that show’s manifestation of “agony”, which is a downhill ski racer’s head-banging journey down a mountain.
A recent conversation with my sister suggests that not everyone has received a medal. She claims not to have received a trophy or medal, ever. She, as I did, came of age in the era of awarding medals for winning. Still, it’s hard to believe that she didn’t stumble across a trophy or medal somewhere along the way. Hell, even Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, after a 108-year drought. I’d hate to think that she faces that kind of time, before earning her first medal. Let me just say this, Kathy: Medal or no medal, you’re a winner in my book!