My daughter Nadjah is overly obsessed with comparisons.
“Mommy? Who crawled the fastest when they were babies?” she often asks.
“I dunno, sweetie.”
“Mommy? Who cried the loudest?”
“I’d have to say Liya,” I generally reply.
“Mommy? Who was the messiest eater? Who pooped the most?”
God if I even care! You were all messy eaters! You’re killing me with these questions!
“Everybody was pretty messy, but Aya was the messiest.”
By this time, my nerves are pretty frazzled. I don’t have a high tolerance for ‘stupid’ questions – but she’s 6, and she’s trying to learn (I assume), so I indulge her more than I generally am apt to.
I thought this behavior was exclusive to our interaction at home, but after contacting Nadjah’s kindergarten teacher to make sure she was on target at school, her reply email gave me pause. Nadjah had previously told me that she was the only one to ‘fail’ at an assignment, and I wanted to see what the problem was.
Thank you for your letter. Nadjah is doing well. She is on level, but she is overly concerned about the other kids. She is not the only one that did not finish her contract. This is a routine we have started this semester. It’s new for everyone and half of the class did not complete all of their work last week (and we had a short week). We encourage them to finish, but most of the work is not graded and there are no consequences if they don’t finish.
‘Overly concerned about the other kids.’ Ugh.
In our society where individualism is so cherished, comparing yourself to other people is generally frowned upon. We’re all encouraged to see ourselves as ‘the best’ or as ‘gifted’, no matter how paltry the effort we put into our day to day task. As a result, America has succeeded in raising a generation of narcissists. At first I was alarmed that Nadjah was spending so much time benchmarking herself against her peers and even her own siblings, until I realized that this is healthy behavior if guided and directly appropriately.
I am a hugely opposed to this culture of ‘everyone gets a sticker for effort’ we’ve instituted in this country. The first time I saw it in action was at an elementary school basketball game. My friend’s 11 year old son was consistently scoring on the team, so much so that they stopped keeping score so that the other team wouldn’t feel ‘bad’ when they saw that they had been defeated so utterly. Now how is that fair to this little boy who spent hours after school doing drills and training his hardest so that he could play his best for his team? America is obsessed with this notion that failure is going to do irreparable damage to our children’s’ self-esteem; so much so that we don’t even allow them to get into an environment where failure is even possible. On Tuesday night, President Obama talked about ‘winning the future’. How in the world are we going to win the future when our future leaders have no inkling what winning really looks like? American culture today purports we are ‘all winners’, and that’s not the case. Some of us are losers – and if you don’t want to be a loser, you need to train harder, study longer, work faster than the next guy…otherwise China and India are going to out-compete us every time. America has become far too complacent and reliant on its history as the world’s dominant leader, assuming its position as the global leader.
This notion was hammered home when I was talking to my mother and sister-in-law, both educators.
“Just tell Nadjah that she is no different than everyone else,” my sister-in-law advised. “Everyone is the same. I think there’s a book you can buy for kids called ‘Everyone is the same’ or something like that that talks about it.”
It’s the same kind of speech they used to give us on those NBC after-school specials from the 80s: Great for making you feel good… not so great for preparing you for life.
“Uhh…no,” I disagreed. “Everyone is NOT the same. There are some people who are losers.”
“What?” said my mother-in-law. “That’s not nice, Malaka!”
“It might not be nice, but it’s true.”
And that’s the truth. There are frikkin’ losers in life, and my job is to make sure my kid isn’t one of them – End of story.