Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and I’m just a kitten

"Competition is about winning and losing. That is it. There is no middle ground. It's about being better than the next guy. That's what life is about."

This is a quote I stole from a fella named Matt Hopard**. Matt heard this statement being spewed from the ignorant mouth of a father to his now-jaded son. The topic at hand is that of competition. The need to be the winner. The *requirement* of this man's son to be "better than". The lesson being that anything less will be a failure and a disappointment. This father is not expressing his own desire to be better or a winner, but his expectations of his son to be the very best, like no one ever was. To capture success is his real test, to train himself is his cause. He must travel across the land , searching far and wide. Each Pokemon to underst- wait, I think I may be quoting something else.

I am sure this is a very common sentiment. It may be seen by some as motivation to do better and be better. What's wrong with that? Is it really "tantamount to child abuse", as Matt believes?

Well, here's the problem- any absolute is bound to be flawed. The fact is, there IS a middle ground. There are "losers" who are still a success, who still can makes something of themselves, or feel pride despite not being 100% perfect 100% of the time. Telling a child, your child, no matter his age or background, that he is, essentially, a failure if he does not always win will affect that child in various ways throughout his/her life. Some may be positive effects, but the thinking and the doing may also be negative. Now, it is true this applies to most words of wisdom, but there is a particular empathy, as well as common sense that is involved when it comes to parental advice. There's a difference between telling your child, "Always try everything new" and telling them, "If you think you have something positive to learn or experience from something new, give it a try!" Even this example may have its faults, but my point is, all wisdom must come with leeway. Not to mention, advice should be supportive rather than give a sense of shame or fear. No child gains from fear. Positive reinforcement is the wave of the future. We're moving forward from the hand slapping, head whacking, and emotional deterioration.

The one point that I have not made yet is that failure is not always fruitless, either. It is a learning tool and it may lead to winning in other ways. It leads to understanding, compassion, empathy, and most of all, it leads to resilience. Maybe not most of all, but it certainly does. I was inspired by this topic due to a patient I work with. This patient is extremely intelligent and has tons of potential, but his greatest  downfall? His fear of failure. He refuses to play games he does not know how to play or that he is less than perfect at. He loves mechanical engineering, but he is very resistant to the idea of returning to school to continue his studies in fear of not being as successful as his own father expected him to be. This man is 52 and to this day, he fears failure due to his father's unrealistic expectations. His father did not believe in a middle ground, much like the father in aforementioned situation. It was either win or be a loser. This is a common theme I have noticed in the mentally ill patients I work with. They have lived a life being told they are never good enough. That simply trying their best was never good enough. That living life and trying things for the sake of giving it a go was never good enough. That their "normal" and healthy sibling is the better child because they are healthy and "normal". What was it that Einstein said about climbing a tree like a fish?

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I was close.

We are individuals, we are flawed in a thousand ways. We are built to fail and lack and play pool and sometimes (or always) lose. Admittedly, when you are in a competition, you are trying to win. You are trying to reach that point of accomplishment, and "being better", and making the other dude buy you a drink, and bragging like an idiot. However, you are also trying to enjoy the game, and working on your skill, and letting your crush win, and cheating, getting caught, and laughing about it, and punching the other dude in the arm because you lost. It's a game foremost, a hobby or social activity.

The trick when it comes to competition is not only respecting the other player(s) at the end, win or lose, but respecting yourself as well. If you have been raised to believe that losing means you should belittle yourself, that is abuse. Any parent who puts pressure and disdain into the mind of a child is not considering the well-being of the child. A parent who makes their child feel loss of self-respect for one day or one month or their entire life is committing the act of child abuse. That is cruelty. That is unforgivable.

**** You can check out Matt's live stream/Twitter/website @ www.stopmotionsolo.net - stopmotionsolo.tv - https://twitter.com/StopMotionsolo****

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