We humans feel we need ceremonies and symbols, some more elaborate than others. When we marry, we have a ceremony during which words are spoken, and among Christians they invariably involve the three main Christian directives: Faith, hope and charity (love), the greatest being love. Symbols of the love are exchanged — before witnesses.
I figure that’s so we can’t later disavow the promises by saying things like, “I didn’t really understand” or “I wasn’t in my right mind when I said that.” Tough. We said it.
Symbols of success run the gamut. When a cowboy or cowgirl wins at a rodeo, the prize most always includes a gold belt buckle. From the time we’re young, we look forward to receiving symbols of our success. If we don’t win, we’re told to work harder and maybe next time we’ll be successful. However, the past few years I’ve noticed that oftentimes children receive symbols (like ribbons) just for showing up, whether or not they win. That, of course, makes winning almost meaningless.
I suspect the football players who perform spectacular celebrations on the field after they (a) get a touchdown (b) sack the opposing quarterback or (c) any other “good play” are products of the “here’s your award for showing up” education. When they really do manage something outstanding they feel compelled to carry on extravagantly because at last they’ve got something to celebrate “for real.”
I must admit I’m not immune to this. One year I got lucky and bowled an outstanding game, and the league secretary didn’t get around to ordering my congratulatory pin. I was furious.
Back to the children. When they don’t win, how do they feel? It’s not like they don’t realize what the real deal is. Here’s where the love comes in. Everybody is good at something, no matter who you are. The adult in charge who really loves the child will help him or her find that something he or she is good at. I guarantee everyone is good at something — maybe it’s finding bugs in the garden or keeping the classroom furniture in order throughout the day. The point is “I’m good at this” will be the real deal, not something made up by adults.
The winners need to be taught graciousness in victory, and that’s sometimes the most difficult lesson.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers quarterback, after winning the 2011 super bowl, provided an excellent example. After the victory he was quoted as saying, “Got to give credit to our defense. This is a great group of men that we put together here, a lot of character, been through a lot together.”
Notably missing in his comments were the “I am the greatest” attitude we’ve come to expect from some other sports champions.
The final ceremony for us all is our funeral. Fiction is sometimes the order of the day. After all, what could a pastor say about Billy the Kid at his funeral? That he had many friends? He did, you know.