When I was five, I got my first participation medal. I can remember it perfectly– the red, white, and blue ribbon with a silver baseball pendant hanging from it, signifying the end of the baseball season and surely the end of my baseball career. I was no star on the dirt diamond, but for some reason was still awarded a medal for my efforts. In fact, during that season I had managed to hit the batter in the head with a throw while playing catcher AND was the only one on my team for whom they had to bring out the tee to ensure that I had the chance to actually hit a ball.
While my baseball career surely was equally as humiliating as it was hopeless, I was still given an award and told that I did great. I kept that medal until I was about halfway through high school, when I realized it was actually worthless. But why was I awarded that medal in the first place, and what did that say about the way society taught me to believe that everything in the future was going to be handed to me with minimal effort?
I am not here to speak on behalf of our generation as a whole. In fact, I am actually making very broad generalizations about the young adults of today. However, I do believe that something that needs to be addressed is the idea of entitlement among our generation. It seems as though we feel that we have the right to anything we please.
This idea of entitlement began development long before we even knew what was going on. As children in elementary school, we were told that all of us were smart and our ideas were brilliant. Quite frankly, some of those ideas we had weren’t brilliant. However, we never received an explanation as to how they weren’t brilliant, or how they could be tweaked to make sense. Instead, we were given a pat on the back and half-assed reassurance that we were the next Einsteins of the world.
In sports, we were given participation trophies and medals, signifying nothing more than completing the season as a member of the team. No matter how you performed or how many practices you made it to, you were given the exact same award as everyone else. The kids that worked their butts off all season got no additional recognition, while the kids who showed up to 3 out of the 10 games were praised for their excellence.
Now, I’m not saying that encouraging children is a bad thing. I certainly benefitted from this encouragement, especially considering my lame attempt at being a baseball player. However, some of the best teachers and mentors I’ve had were the ones that told me I was wrong and explained how I could do better. They did not reassure me that everything I was doing was perfect, nor did they perpetuate the notion that everything was going to come easy to me.
Now that I’m an adult, I look around at my peers and am genuinely embarrassed. College students go to their professors to ask for a grade that they didn’t work for. Young people across the country are up in arms because their favored candidate didn’t win the presidential election. Recent college graduates begin entry-level jobs and expect a salary similar to one of their parents. Young men accused of rape claim that the victim was “asking for it”. This entitlement is a new concept, one our parents’ generation has never seen, and I believe it is a direct product of a childhood filled with reassurance and participation trophies.
Our entire childhood was spent with adults telling that we were right, that we were capable, that things would come easy to us, even if these things were not true. Most of the people we looked up to left us with a pat on the back and optimistic thoughts that we could do anything we set our mind to. But the world just doesn’t work for that. You actually have to work your ass off to get good grades and your dream job and even sometimes to earn enough money to eat dinner every night. Not everything is going to go your way, and when that happens it is NOT ACCEPTABLE to face defeat with a temper tantrum.
It is okay to feel defeated. It is okay to feel lost. I feel that every day. But at the same time, we need to start handling these tough situations with an interest in improvement and drive to work harder. We need to accept that things will not always be handed to us and that life can sometimes be really hard. We need to understand that occasionally we make mistakes and that life is full of learning lessons. Instead of throwing tantrums, let’s work to face failure with adversity and work hard for what we want. I know this isn’t what we’ve always been taught, but it’s what we need to do be functional members of society.