You want a medal for that?
I must be slipping. I haven’t received nearly as many awards as an adult as I did when I was younger.When I was at my parents’ house last weekend, my mother not-so-subtly beseeched me to trash my assorted boxes of dusty pictures, letters, college notebooks, toys and other childhood paraphernalia by stacking them directly in the doorway to my bedroom.As I pored through the cartons and strolled down memory lane, I became increasingly impressed at how accomplished I was beginning from toddlerhood through college. I have no idea how I neglected to remember my many, many, many talents. I found awards for everything.In addition to the plethora of certificates I received from the various camps and summer programs my parents paid for me to attend (all of those awards were essentially the same: “Thanks for not whining excessively! Your parents didn’t ask for a refund! Hooray! Please come back next summer so we can cash your check again!”), there were two awards from the Future Scientists of America for achievements in science. Clearly they overlooked the fact that I was easily the only kid in the history of school science fairs to fail to make my homemade clay volcano erupt. The National Rifle Association certified me twice, once as a qualified marksman and the other time as a qualified pro-marksman (long live the Second Amendment!).In one box I found a certificate for participating in a district-wide Story Tell-A-Thon. There was another certificate for reading 10 books in a Reading Bowl (the lesser-known cousin of the Super Bowl, I suppose). One certificate recognized my somewhat vague “achievement in literature.” I received a Martin Luther King Jr. certificate of merit even though I distinctly remember being made to sit out that school assembly honoring his birthday because I grew dizzy during the dress rehearsal after staring too long directly into the bright, hot spotlight.Mickey Mouse personally signed one of the certificates I had stashed away, conferring upon me the status of honorary mate of the Walt Disney World Character Breakfast Crew on the Empress Lilly Riverboat. The Daughters of the American Revolution awarded my entire third-grade class second place for an “in-state scrapbook” – what that was exactly I have zero recollection. I got a happy face award “for being a great kid and doing a great job in physical education.”I got two certificates for accomplishments in band. (No offense to the Aspen Music Festival and School students, but come on, who accomplishes anything in a grade school band other than learning how to make fun of the kid who plays the tuba? Unless you’re winning a Grammy for your musical achievements, who cares?) My biggest triumph is easily the three certificates of achievement I unearthed for coming in sixth place in three separate cross-country races.At a certain point, though, you have to stop and wonder if the whole award giving, positive-reinforcement thing has become a little ridiculous. I mean, three awards for coming in sixth place? What is it about mediocrity that educators feel the need to encourage? Don’t bother trying to run faster and get in better shape, kids – you’ll get a prize just the same!On the other hand, it seems a bit cruel to pamper kids with certificates of achievement on a regular basis and then stop the stroking the moment they turn 21. Why not continue the award-love into adulthood? The city of Aspen and Pitkin County dole out awards hourly (or so it seems). Selfless community volunteers, tree huggers and Prius owners are always getting recognized for their efforts.But those do-gooders need to go above and beyond to earn the kudos. How about recognizing underwhelming efforts for a change? If I thought I had a shot at winning something just for showing up and not throwing a temper tantrum like when I was a kid, there might be an added spring in my step when my alarm clock goes off in the morning. Hell, I might even start using my alarm clock.How about giving out ribbons to the colleagues who complete their assignments correctly and hand them in close to on time? Would it be so terrible to applaud someone for showing up to work most days, taking just the allotted hour for lunch and not ducking out until it’s honestly time to go home? Three cheers to the person ahead of you in line at the public restroom who actually flushes the toilet. And to the driver whose car is so well parked that its door can swing open without denting yours – a free lunch! How about a little trophy for the person who manages to wake up without a visible hangover after a big night out? Or an extra pat on the back to those who manage to wait until 5 p.m. in their own time zone before partaking in the first drink of the day?I might have some serious catching up to do, but start giving out those kinds of awards and I’ll be back on track to star mediocrity in no time.E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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