Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ambition Redux

Ambition is considered an excellent quality in children as they grow in stature, measurable in inches and achievements. I was recently sent a photo of my grand-nephew proudly holding up his diploma at nursery school graduation. Already media-savvy with a director's eye, his little hands held up the paper at just the right angle for the camera to capture it contents properly. This 5 year old was beaming with pride, his brown eyes shining as little girly girls gazed upon him adoringly.

My great-aunt's heart was relieved to see a healthy, happy face downwind of the family lineage. Thank god, I thought to myself, we've got a really bright one coming down the pike. But another part of me went in a more cynical direction: if graduating from nursery school is such a big event, then what is there to look forward to, unless of course the kid drops out of kindergarten or elementary school before those graduations. Not unheard of, upwind of the lineage Grandpa Phil never made it past third grade because child labor was in fashion for the lower classes, when he was a boy growing up in a depressed area of the Bronx.

Or take the case of my daughter, when at age 5, everyone in her soccer team was given the same exact trophy at the end of the season. Never mind that she spent her time on the field twirling her curls and looking at cloud patterns as the ball whizzed by unnoticed. Or that the Israeli girl who kicked the ball into the net time and time again got the exact same trophy.

The current trend of rewarding achievement en masse does has its benefits. After all, no one wants to be a loser in this post-psychoanalytic age. But the group reward theory is caught in the grip of a societal oxymoron: the further we get from the tribal council with its emphasis on the collective, the more distinct the individual has become and the more ego-centered the ambition. Real go-getters might even achieve the prize of great gain - a You Tube video gone viral. (For the uninitiated, it is not something a hacker does to your computer to give it the flu.) 

The 'let's reward every child model,' contrasted with the Darwinian values of Americana once one enters adulthood, could be downright crazy-making. Small wonder that prescription meds and snow white heroine are flourishing in the burbs as the menace of adulthood looms large.

While self-worth forms the cornerstone of healthy ambition, banking solid core values takes more than group trophies and degrees that prove you didn't flunk out of nursery school. Real time, money, and attention from more or less enlightened grownups is what will give the next generation the will to "do" and not to become undone.

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