Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Elli graduated from kindergarten today.  There was a big ceremony with the kids singing half a dozen songs, a parade of kids going across the stage to receive their graduation papers and then cake and photo ops.  Most of the parents there seemed super excited and took dozens of photographs while complimenting their children extravagantly on their achievement.  I don't get it.  I am well established as a curmudgeon when it comes to things like this so my disdain is not going to surprise anyone I expect.  Nonetheless I still find myself surprised when people make such a big deal about graduating kindergarten.  For one, nobody can fail to graduate kindergarten no matter what they do so it isn't something that is any sort of achievement.  For two, I think that Stoic philosophy is really key here - don't focus on achievements that are based on luck or other people's input but rather focus on personal effort and commitment.

People often repeat the old saying "It's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game" to their children but they don't seem to follow that advice themselves.  They make a giant fuss at things like championship games, promotions, and graduation ceremonies instead of at the small times when children work hard or make a personal breakthrough.  When you focus attention on achievements that are based on luck you give the impression that the important thing is to be lucky rather than good.  It is far better to celebrate effort over achievement both in terms of personal happiness and societal good:  Effort is something we can all put in if we want to so framing out happiness and rewards in terms of effort allows us to feel in control of our happiness and our lives.  I am sure we would all be much happier if the people around us focused on effort rather than victory too, just as we urge our children to do in the old saying.

I am proud when Elli learns a new thing or works hard to create something and I love the joy she gets from those difficult creative experiences.  I don't give two hoots about whether or not anybody else thinks what she has accomplished is worthy or not though and I won't tie my respect for her to arbitrary standards imposed from outside.  I was busy figuring this out during my younger years and always my issue was not being able to do the school work but rather caring enough about it to bother.  I wonder if I will be an easy or hard parent to please... on one hand Elli doesn't have to win anything to get my attention but on the other hand she does actually have to try.

The Stoics advise you to be the best you can be and the trophies will take care of themselves.  I can't help but think they are right.

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