Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Just Keep Swimming

Tonight, I went to my siblings' swim team banquet. Now, granted. End-of-the-season banquets are usually a mixed bag. With a reputation for being longer than "The Bear" (a nearly-silent film about ... a bear), typically sub-par food, and identical trophies for all, these banquets tend to get a bad rap. However, I would argue that these seemingly insignificant little ceremonies offer an accurate read on Americans' perception of rewards.

The first part of this is the participation trophies - like it or not, Americans have decided that not recognizing every single person is unfair and discouraging. In some way, it probably is. However, Dash from the Incredibles (did you ever think - when he grows up, he'll be married to "Mrs. Dash"), said it best when he replied to his mother's encouraging "Everyone's special, Dash," with "which is another way of saying no one is."

Kids aren't stupid - they know that if everyone's getting one, it's not really anything special. So no matter how many participation trophies you give out, you're not really fooling anyone. You're giving them something nice for their shelf, but if it wasn't earned, it's less important to display. In America, we promise everyone as equal a start as we can - that's what the Bill of Rights is for. After that though, you're on your own. We don't promise everyone an equal outcome - although awards banquets show that perhaps we'd like that better.

However, the second part of the banquet is individual awards. There are "most valuable player" awards, the "swimmer of the year" award, and silly individual awards - like "too cool for the pool." While the fun awards are just that, the MVP and swimmer of the year honors focus on individual swimmers who were at the top of their game. These are for the part of our culture that still wants hard work in to equal success out.

See, capitalism favors those who work hard, and it doesn't reward everyone. Capitalism doesn't guarantee equal outcomes, it simply guarantees not arbitrarily penalizing anyone. If sports banquets are a good barometer (which, given the dedication and competition present, I'd say they are), we're at the point where as long as everyone gets something, we're still okay giving out real awards. I just worry we're on track to eliminate the second part of that sentence - something that would have bigger consequences than swimmers' trophy shelves.

Before sitting poolside at the banquet, I was in:
Black & cream high-waisted dress, black and silver bamboo hoop earrings, silver flower cocktail ring, and strappy black open-toe stilettos.