We need to face the fact that our country has gone pathetically soft! We have managed to transform ourselves into a nation of underachievers. It has become categorically unacceptable for us to compete with one another. Instead, we have adopted a feel-good mentality that postulates everyone must be validated through recognition merely for showing up! Here is a hard and simple fact! Lack of competition breeds mediocrity; whereas competition fosters achievement.
What was once the most prominent educational system in the world has withered into obscurity. Our fifteen year-olds can proudly boast that the United States globally ranks 30th in mathematics, 23rd in science, and 20th in reading. We are importing scientists, doctors, and engineers on a daily basis. Our corporations are consistently pummeled by what were third world countries a generation ago. To top it all off; we have created a culture wherein everyone can claim to be a victim!
Somewhere along the line, it was decided that people no longer had the capacity to feel good about themselves. As a result, society stepped into that role. We now award “participation trophies” to members of youth sports teams. In the classroom, teachers do not instruct to a recognized standard; instead they cater to the slowest learner in the room, holding other students back! In short, we anesthetize the masses so that nobody feels badly about themselves.
I can only imagine where this trend will take us next. The memo was addressed from the CEO to the entire company. It stated that from that point forward; everybody in the company had been promoted to a VP level. This action was taking place not because everyone had earned it; but rather it was because everybody had shown up for work! So let the feel good about ourselves games commence!
My beloved Denver Broncos are on TV. I am comfortably nestled on the couch, Fritos and bean dip in hand. Suddenly there is a stoppage in play; one of the officials has thrown the “reward flag.” The camera zooms in on the Referee midfield. He reaches to the side and turns on his microphone. “We have a reward on the field,” his deep voice echoes. “Number 93 on the defense is rewarded for allowing the runner to get into the end zone untouched. The reward will be enforced on the kickoff!”
No matter our level of diligence and commitment; not all of us will become professional athletes or physicists employed by NASA. Every five year-old girl out there is not destined to be a premier ballerina simply because she donned a tutu. A high school hockey player will not be named captain of the team merely because he looks sad, dejected, and unfulfilled! No matter how many medals I hang around your neck; if you cannot balance your checkbook, I seriously doubt you will become a world-renowned economist!
As I was growing up, nobody put a bib around my neck and spoon-fed me validation! I learned that it was pleasant to feel good about myself. I synthesized that into the observation that positive accomplishments made me feel good. That then was generalized into competing with myself, or others, to attain my goals and chalk up accomplishments. In other words, I took responsibility for my actions, feelings, and the subsequent outcomes!
If we submerge into the deepest levels of pathos; all of us can find a reason to label ourselves as a victim. Once we have that mindset, we have sabotaged our ability to feel good about ourselves. Instead, we become addicts; looking for that next hit of “I am valued” from everyone around us. We can no longer self-validate our own self-worth. The cycle then just perpetuates itself; leading us to reward others merely for showing up! This heritage then becomes our legacy, cursing our future generations.
It is time to wake up! Coming in second place simply means that you were the top loser! We must all relearn how to compete, especially with ourselves. There is nothing wrong with achievement and the pride that comes with it. In victory, you will learn grace. In defeat, you will learn ways in which to better yourself. Each time you better yourself, you will also better the world around you.
It is not too late for us to abandon this culture of entitlement. We can teach future generations that it is permissible, nay commendable, to compete for those things that are near and dear to us. We can reclaim our place in the global community as leaders of progress. But it all has to begin with you! Are you ready to take responsibility for yourself and your thoughts? Are you willing to pay the price that comes with accomplishment and recognition? Are you committed to validating yourself?
Today I felt the thrill of competition; I had to get the attention of a community of millions of people who are inundated with more information than the human brain can possibly juggle. I felt the comfort of accomplishment in completing this essay and sharing my thoughts with the world. My sense of self-worth will come from knowing that I may have positively touched the life of a single unknown individual through my humble words!
I frequently travel internationally. It is always with great anticipation that I enter the airport immigration and customs hall at major US ports of entry. I feel like I am receiving my own personal homecoming. I only hope that on my next return flight I do not see a sign high overhead; proclaiming “Welcome to the United States of Complacency!”