For a nation that seems as perilously perched on the brink of disaster as we’ve ever been, we sure seem to be doing an awful lot of celebrating these days. The celebrations from my younger days averaged about one per month, and only two of those qualified for the receipt of presents. There were holiday meals, but rarely holiday “parties” and more often than not, the occasions were marked exclusively by a card from my grandmother and check for five dollars. But the latest generation of “trophy kids” or Generation W (for Winning), seems to find opportunities to celebrate even the most mundane of events - to the point where even Hallmark has given up on trying to come up with sets of cards to commemorate these otherwise unremarkable milestones and simply lets you make your own. Look, I’m all for celebrating - when you’ve got something to celebrate. But in interests of not commoditizing celebratory events to the point where they’re not all that special anymore, here are 3 things we need to stop celebrating:
1. Grow Up. There comes a time in your life when you should stop expecting people to make a big deal out of the cosmically insignificant day of the year that you were born, and that time is the day after you turn 21. I know you think it’s your special day and that everyone should shower you with gifts, praise and other festive libations, but in reality, it’s just not that remarkable. You’re just getting older like the rest of us, and like the day of your conception, there were no angels singing or signs from the heavens. Nope, your parents were just in the proverbial “mood.” Do you know how many people you have to get in a room before it’s more likely than not that two of you will have the same exact birthday? Twenty three. Yup, that’s it. You can look it up. You had more kids in your home room class. So if you’ve got more than 23 Facebook friends, the fact that two of you share a birthday is not a crazy coincidence, it’s a statistical likelihood. The coming of age is a time-honored tradition that does, in fact, deserve celebration at almost every milestone (except maybe 20 - I mean, honestly, who cares when anyone turns twenty?). After all, there’s not much better than a little kid‘s birthday party. But seeing grown men and women (okay, mostly women) orchestrate extravagant to-dos out of these events is just pathetic. I mean for a gender who seems to fear aging like it’s the Apocalypse, you sure do go out of your way to make careening towards wrinkles and mom-jeans look like fun. And any man that needs this as an excuse to drink should have his man-card pulled. The rest of us just use “Saturday”. So, happy birthday and all, but if you’re expecting more than a card or Facebook acknowledgment, I’m afraid you’re not getting that pony after all.
2. Non-Graduations. There are two real graduations in your life: high school and college. After one, you’re finally heading out on your own, and after the other, you are going to get your first real job. Those are a big deal and there should be a ceremony, a speech, a ridiculous outfit, family members with video cameras, some kind of party and maybe even a nice gift. But you don’t graduate from kindergarten, nor do you graduate from elementary school, middle school or junior high. Honestly, the next day you’ll still be living at home, the next year you’ll still see the same kids, your mom is still doing your laundry and you need your dad’s permission to go out. You don’t graduate from those grades, you just pass them (or for some of you paste-eaters, you barely survive them). If the skill set required to “graduate” from the sixth grade was worthy of ceremony, then we also ought to have still-have-a-pulse parties, didn’t-accidentally-maim-yourself dances, and maybe even the occasional no-felony-convictions-this-year barbecues. Who are we kidding? School hasn’t gotten harder, it’s gotten easier. I haven’t heard of a kid failing a class in a decade and a full sixty percent of children believe they’re in the top ten percent of their class. If school was any easier to pass, they’d have beds instead of chairs in the classroom. Since when is a summer off not enough reward for finishing any grade lower than 12? I love my niece and nephews and I may someday love kids of my own, but there’s a better chance of me reading the Twilight books while listening to Miley Cyrus on my iPod and wearing a TapOut shirt with my Crocs than attending a “graduation” that they can’t drive themselves home from.
3. Non-Firsts. The word “trophy” comes from the from Latin word “trophaeum” meaning "a sign of victory, monument," which derived from the Greek word “tropaion” meaning a "monument of an enemy's defeat.” And what is exceedingly clear from this etymology is, no matter what else you know about trophies, they were never intended to given out for second place. A trophy that isn’t for winning is a monument to your own defeat, and the only place where they should legitimately give out anything for second place (or lower) is the Olympics. Our national obsession with rewarding even the most disappointing and underwhelming performances with their own trophies not only devalues the real winners, but robs those who didn’t win of that harsh sting of defeat which might be just the thing to drive them to a subsequent victory. After all, our love of winners came from the idea that there weren’t very many of them - so when everyone walks away with trophy, what’s the point in working for the “big one”? This is especially troubling with children, who are rewarded for even the most banal efforts with wild praise and physical reward. There should, indeed, be comfort and praise in not necessarily winning everything you try, but giving your best - that is what your parents are for. In the absence of parents, you also have your friends and family - why exactly does there need to also be a trophy? Because the world at large does little, if anything, by way of consolation prizes. At best, you can hope for an opportunity to try again - and even that isn’t guaranteed. The only thing you need to take away from not winning is the perspective it gives you and the lessons it teaches. I’ll take a heart full of that over a shelf full of second place trophies.
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There seem to be so many great instruments of celebration: great meals, great games, great drinks, great gifts. We are nothing else if not the world’s finest purveyors of indulgence. But with that said, it is the restraint to only indulge infrequently that has made us who we are - and the fact we seem to be losing that restraint with each succeeding generation that threatens to kill us. We are the world’s fattest, laziest and most entitled nation - and it’s eating away at our previously insurmountable lead on the rest of the world faster than an Alabama redneck in a Cheesecake Factory. Perhaps if we took a break from celebrating the mundane, handing out trophies for mediocrity and patting each other on the back, we just might get back to the ass-kicking and name-taking that got us this far, or at least keep us from eating so much damned cake.