I watched the Fred Rogers documentary last night. (I’m not crying. *You’re* crying!) Mr. Rogers was a pretty strong example of the immense good that religious faith can bring into the world. I’m not a religious man myself, but it’s clear that Mr. Rogers’ faith drove him and informed his work in the world. There are a lot of loud mouths who do a lot of bad in the name of God. It’s important to remember that there are also a lot of people quietly doing good because of their faith as well. (And people doing good and bad without religious guidance as well.)
But, I digress before I even got started. One scene that really got to me was a series of opinion columns and television shows where people were arguing that Mr. Rogers had corrupted a generation or two of kids by telling them that they had inherent worth. This is the crowd that is desperately worried about participation trophies. These folks argue, perversely, that we’re damaging kids by telling them that they have worth.
I’m ultimately skeptical that the people who are critical of participation trophies are motivated by a deep concern for the children involved. At some level, I think these people don’t feel good about themselves or their own accomplishments unless someone else is losing. And/or they have some vague notion that the world these days is bad compared to the past and, what the hell, let’s blame it on people mollycoddling kids these days. (Lack of historical knowledge and nostalgia goggles let them overlook that the past, by and large, was a comparatively crappy place to live.) I don’t know, maybe their own parents beat them and told them they were losers. It’s too painful to think mom & dad were jerks or incompetent parents, so they turn that pain into a virtue. “It was for my own good.”
In a similar way, I think the idea of hell has its roots in the “can’t win unless others are losing” mentality. There is a sizable group of people who seem to relish the idea of others suffering in hell every bit as much as they look forward to their own divine reward. If I had to guess, I’d say that the group who finds a lot of value in the idea of hell probably has strong, negative opinions about participation trophies.
Competition is good. It hones skills and adds excitement to an activity. But the idea that a person doesn’t have worth outside of winning and losing is pernicious. It adds unnecessary pain to the world. Somehow the idea that the world can be made better by being nice to each other and helping one another has become subject to scorn and ridicule. It’s unicorns and rainbows. Cooperative and respectful isn’t the same thing as “weak.” I don’t think Fred Rogers was anyone’s doormat. If you look at what he accomplished and how he accomplished it, I think you’ll find a strength of will that most of us have not developed.
Anyway, be nice to each other. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. We can and should aspire to make the world better. Not winning isn’t the same as being a loser.