Well, you might as well buckle up. I write about topics which are important to me in these blogs and it’s March so if you don’t like sports, this one is not for you.
It’s March Madness. I am biding my time waiting for my South Carolina Gamecocks (#1 in the nation by the way) by watching Marquette and South Florida which just went into overtime. March Madness is giving me new life! The rules are harsh and unforgiving: Lose one game and you are out! Your season is over and no parade for you.
I had a conversation with someone recently where I lamented the way kids are being raised today. (Yes, I’m that old.) We have rightly become sensitive to not putting too much pressure on kids; we want them affirmed so they grow up to be functioning adults who are a credit to society. As well intentioned as our efforts were, I think we may have tipped too far in our methods to achieve that goal.
Now, when there is a race, all the kids either get a trophy or something tangible to signal that they did great. In a sense, they all win. Competitive events are structured in such a way that winners and losers are celebrated. Now, I am not a mental health professional who can properly assess the validity of promoting self-esteem in young children by taking this stance and squelching a competitive spirit. I just have to trust that they know what they are doing. (Although maybe there should have been a mental health professional making the call back then. Their intervention might well have prevented this automatic twitch I get in my left eye when someone asks me to spell a word. But I digress...)
What I do know is that this practice was not in play when I was growing up in my little town in South Carolina. When I was in elementary school, I was very good in English class. I devoured books from a young age and as a result I was a strong speller. When we would have spelling bees, each time I would get excited, filled with hope believing I would win. I never did. Each time we had a spelling bee, I would get the same result: I would end up going neck to neck with my arch spelling bee nemesis, the smartest person in the class, Martha. Martha would consistently kick my a**. From what I remember, Martha had even more siblings than I had. I think because of that Martha was not only smart, but she was hungry and worked very hard to separate herself from the pack. She excelled in all subjects in the classroom.
When my hopes would be dashed after yet another win by Martha, I don’t even remember the teacher, Ms. Wright, or even one classmate patting me on the back and telling me good job, better luck next time or any other consoling words. When Martha won, the room would erupt with loud cheers, and everyone would gather around and celebrate her. I was cast to the side and forgotten about so quickly. Those losses didn’t make me lose all hope and believe that my life was over. Quite the opposite. They made me know that I could survive not winning and they also taught me the spoils of war (i.e., the admiration from Ms. Wright [she rarely smiled, and she would be beaming at Martha], the smiles and encouragement from classmates, an extra treat later) go to winners. It was a hard lesson at such a young age, but somehow I believe those losses toughened me up for the realities of life. Life can be similar to competing in a game. Some chances only come around once. Sometimes you can capitalize on them, and you win. Sometimes you come up short and the game is over. But just like in sports competitions, you pick yourself up and you just may be fortunate enough to get another chance. Against all odds, you start believing in yourself again, and with renewed hope. you sprint from the sidelines, and get back in the game.
Every time after a loss in the spelling bee I gamely stepped up next time to compete again. I gave it my all. Left it all on the field. Never stopped believing this time would be different and I would prevail. I never won but one day I realized that while I didn’t beat Martha, I did indeed beat everyone else. I didn’t need coddling, I needed perspective.