There is a certain sense of accomplishment you feel when you win. When you earn. When you grow and when you, well, accomplish. What does anyone feel when they receive a participation trophy? “Wow I showed up!”.
Participation trophies are criticized for giving artificial praise to children to make them feel special and as if everything is about them. The recipients of these participation trophies go from being excluded and sheltered from losing to young adults excluded and sheltered from the harsh world that is reality. Trophies themselves are stupid, even if you do win. Competitors are so insecure that we need an engraved piece of metal or plastic displayed on a shelf to secure a sense of accomplishment. Hallowed in our homes are these trophies, so that everyday we are reminded that we’ve accomplished something, or so visitors are reminded that this is a home of those who achieve. HOWEVER- it’s what the trophy stands for and how the trophy makes you feel that makes it so rewarding.
As an athlete, there is no greater feeling than being the champion, the best of the best. In the wise words of Ricky Bobby, “If you’re not first, you’re last”. While this may not be necessarily true, along with these feelings of winning is knowing that all your hard work, all the dedication of your time, money, effort, and body, all the sacrifice, everything you put in has finally paid off. With that being said, one of the worst feelings is knowing that someone didn’t work nearly as hard as you, didn’t train as hard, didn’t sacrifice or dedicate as much but STILL received a trophy or medal as you did for trying or participating. Just to cushion the crushing blow of loss.
Trophies are about earning not about winning. As millennials, parents and adult leaders in our lives were quick to shower us with trophies, ribbons and certificates. Throughout our lives the showering continued and we continued to live in the shadows of success as our parents were led by the misguided belief that forcing positive self-esteem on us would lead to success. Instead these trophies served as motivation killers and along with these awards we adopted the notion that we didn’t have to try as hard because we’d be rewarded anyways.
Fast forward to the present day- we’ve blossomed into a generation so sheltered from any type of criticism, hurt or opposing opinion, that we cry out for “safe spaces”- labeled as “stupid and infantile” by British actor and comedian Stephen Fry. On the topic of campus safe spaces Fry stated,
“Self pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity. Get rid of it, because no one’s going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself.”
We go on hunger strikes and take to social media to campaign and call for presidents at universities such as Yale and University of Missouri to resign because us millennials weren’t satisfied with the amount of measures taken during conflict. The participation trophy epidemic has led for the need for college professors to use “trigger warnings” to alert students of material that may be uncomfortable. It has led to universities addressing aggressions that are said to harm minorities, and of course, make campus “safe spaces” where students are safeguarded from offense of any kind.
All in all, we haven’t done much growing up since the age we received these participation trophies. We’re still the entitled, cry-baby, hypersensitive kids that were rewarded for merely showing up. Seems to me as if the term “Gen (cr-)Y” is suitable.