"...we Americans, to our detriment, have [come] to love accolades more than genuine achievement." - David McCullough, Jr. as reported in The New York Times)
Mr. McCullough, an English teacher, made his comments in a commencement speech reported on recently in The New York Times. What was he telling them, and us?
The culture of praise, something often touted in this Journal as integral to the approach espoused by Radical Loving Care, can be overdone. That is exactly what has happened in so many aspects of our society.
At every track meet or swimming competition, every participant gets a ribbon, whether they finished first or tenth. At every employee recognition ceremony, every associate or partner is recognized for their years of service - for simply showing up at work every day for five, ten, fifteen or even fifty years.
There's nothing wrong with such recognition. But, there is something seriously out of kilter with the reason for our excessive focus on awards (note the endless number of awards shows on television) ribbons, certificates, and medals.
Our American culture of medals-for-everything suggests that if we didn't receive an award, maybe our work didn't matter. We may subconsciously assume that achievement is not meaningful unless it is officially recognized. People who accomplish precious things in obscurity may, because of our culture, even come to resent not receiving an award.
We may believe we are above such thinking. But, haven't you found your ego swelling when your name is called in recognition? Has an award ever left you feeling that maybe you have escaped the terrifying idea that you are (Oh NO! Dare I say it...) "ordinary?"
How wonderful to win words of praise, especially from those we love. But, are we strong enough to feel affirmed by the quiet knowing that we have lived Love in ways that helped another, whether or not we are hugged or thanked or recognized with a framed certificate?
Even if we occasionally do extraordinary things, perhaps, we are all ordinary.
Is that such a terrible thing? Or is it something we might celebrate as one more way in which we are all joined together in our brief journey through this world.