Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Participation awards

Remember when we were little and we would have competitions, and if we won there was always a big celebration, pat on the back or even an award you could take home? Or if you didn’t win, there would always be someone there to reassure you with a “you did your best” speech and that was it? This wasn’t the case for everyone, of course, because of the many educators or sports coaches who subscribe to the idea of giving participation awards to the losing party.

On paper, participation awards sound like a great idea. If we didn’t know any better, we would call it a nice thing.  It teaches our youth to accept their losses as they come and kids don’t feel so bad about themselves afterwards. On the other hand, it doesn’t leave our youth with enough incentive to try to win. Softening the losses with awards and congratulations for a good effort might not be as beneficial to them as it seems on paper.

Do not worry you will never go home empty handed. Graphic by Caitlin Lewis.
Do not worry you will never go home empty handed when they are passing out these ribbons. Graphic by Caitlin Lewis.

We can’t have nice things like participation awards because it takes away the entire purpose of winning. Where is the glory in winning if the losing team gets rewarded for trying all the same? This is capitalist America, where there are winners and there are losers in life. There will be no one to bring you a tray of cookies or a “good effort” ribbon when the promotion you wanted goes to the other guy. It’s better to have had the disappointing experience of defeat at a young age, so that we try our hardest to avoid being stuck with it again.

Imagine that same scenario again, but this time you’re the person more qualified and you’re chosen for the promotion. It was really the only choice your boss could have made. You’ve got a more seasoned resume because of all your experience. All the other guy had was his college degree and some clubs he attended while he was there. Here’s the catch: you both get the promotion and part of the pay raise you would have earned if it was just you goes to him. The boss saw a good effort on the other guy’s part so he figured it was only fitting to give him some reward for trying.

Suddenly you feel like all of your efforts were devalued. You did everything better, yet this other person gets to share the glory with you by getting rewarded with part of the pay that would have — should have — been yours.

This isn’t how our country works in reality and we shouldn’t give our youth the jaded mentality that it is. There’s nothing wrong with comforting or reassuring someone after a loss, but to reward them only takes away the glory of winning and leaves them open to being more devastated when a real-world loss finally does happen.

A competitive spirit is one of the things our country values most. This is America, we’re natural born winners! ‘MURICA! At least that’s the mentality many people hold, and it’s a good one to have. On a national scale, those who are very competitive will make it to the top much faster than those who are just as qualified but don’t try.

Nowadays every other country looks at the US as a fat, lazy, dumb country. The word “ ’Murica” itself has become a meme that everyone uses to poke fun at the US’s expense when paired with an image of a giant portion of food or an obese person toting more guns than they can carry. It’s a stereotype we’ve allowed the few to give the many here in this great country. It seems like not even a year ago, that same meme was used to brag about how much freedom we have here. I blame participation awards for that too. Why else would we be okay with stereotypes that depict us as lazy?

If we can show some pride in ourselves and not settle for anything less than the best, we might be able to show off what we are as a nation and not just let the lazy stereotype settle in so we can be the butt of every other country’s joke. If we can do that, we might just be able to have nice things.