Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Big Equal

I haven't had much time to blog lately - It was college application season and my daughter appointed me editor of last resort of her college admission essays. All 70+ drafts - at least it seemed like as much to me. I wanted to give my daughter sound advice that would help her present her talents and accomplishments in a format that would increase her chances of admission. It seemed to me certain things had changed - the criteria one must meet these days are different.

I thought back to the time some 20+ years ago when I was applying to schools.

I remember quite clearly sitting on the living room floor with the typewriter in front of me, agonizing over every miserable word - trying to come up with a halfway decent reason of why I felt I would be a good match for XYZ University.

How the heck should I know? I remember thinking. At 16, I wasn't exactly the wisest of all creatures. I also remember fretting over my lack of extracurricular activities and the fact that I wasn't class treasurer or captain of the cheer leading squad and that my GPA was only 3.8.

My list of accomplishments and activities needed more! I thought about all of the clubs and teams I had "belonged to".

There was the cross country track team. My best friend and I joined up together - it had started out just fine - we set off eagerly on our first multi-mile run and kept pace with the others for at least the first hundred yards or so. We soon lost sight of them though and must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because we soon found ourselves in the middle of a very large, fenced lemon orchard - with no obvious way out.

Two hours later we returned to school only to find that all the other girls had gone home and that waiting around for us to get back had made our coach somewhat grumpy. We were fired from the cross-country track team. Neither of us went on to win Olympic gold medals, either. In fact we both ended up doing other things entirely - and I don't think either of us was emotionally damaged when we learned that we stink at track. Thinking about it today makes me giggle.

I can't remember whether I listed the cross-country team or not, but since my tenure lasted only 1 day, it probably wouldn't have helped much.

Times were different back then. You had to be athletic to play a competitive sport. You had to be smart and work hard to take advanced math or science and get good grades and test scores to go to a good college. Some people had to work harder than others to achieve the same results. Some tried their best and still failed - others put in little effort and still walked off with the prize. Or at least so it seemed. But at least the goal was clear - winning was good, success was admired and rewarded - and wealth was something to be proud of. People generally accepted the notion that life isn't always fair and yet they still got up in the morning and went about their day.

These days, the goal is a moving target and what it takes to get ahead in life is as well. Back in the days of common sense, when there were worse things than hurt feelings or offense taken, there were winners and losers. Now that everybody is a winner, (if for some reason you are not a winner, you are a victim), it seems that the rules have changed quite dramatically. I am still trying to figure out these new rules - but here is what I have so far:

  1. Everybody is a winner. If you are one of those despicable types who is actually more of a winner, you will be punished. Case in point: Coach Micah Grimes and his basketball team committed the unforgivable crime of wiping the floor with the opposing team during a recent game. They won 100 to Zip, Nada, Nothing, Goose Egg. Coach Micah Grimes would not apologize to the other team and promise never to do it again. Coach Micah Grimes was fired.

  2. Hurt Feelings, Embarrassment and Offence Taken are the worst things in the world. Causing somebody to experience one of these emotions is far worse than taking away a man's livelihood and possibly forcing him and his family into a really tight spot - what with food costing money and banks wanting monthly payments.

  3. Blatant displays of superior ability are common causes of the aforementioned emotions and are thus undesired. Most likely your ability was gained through an unfair advantage, which means you should be punished. If the source of this unfair advantage can't be immediately determined it is still fair to "level the playing field" by discriminating against you because you are inherently bad.
Am I off the mark here? I can't help but wonder though... what would have happened to that plane that landed in the Hudson river if the pilot had been given the job because of some reason other than his superior flying ability? What would have happened if he hadn't become that skilled an airline pilot in order to avoid hurting somebody Else's feelings?

Here's another thing I wonder about. The basketball team/mop must have felt pretty bad after losing by that big of a margin. Let's face it, it is no fun. Their self-esteem may suffer, they may mope around, they may even give up basketball! (Hint Hint). But they will all get over it and life will go on. They will gain perspective, and with perspective, confidence - because yes, maybe they were humiliated - but they survived and maybe, when life deals them a real blow - they will be able to come out the other side just a little bit better because of it. Kind of like how we have fire drills to practice what to do so that we don't perish when the real thing hits.

Maybe that humiliating experience will build character and give them the life tools they need so that sometime in the future, if one of them loses a job, they don't go home and kill their spouse and 5 children.

Just a thought.


Here is another very insightful blog entry on this topic Inclusively Exclude on a splendid Blog entitled "THE MOM-TIONARY" -I think I will add this one to my side bar thingy. Notable also about the author, Kristina, is that she does not agree with me on everything, (although she does on this topic), but that is "ok with her". How refreshing.