Recently a coworker commented on her younger sibling’s graduation ceremony from grade eight to grade nine. Naturally I said something cynical and wry like “oh you big kidder – they don’t have grad ceremonies between those grades, how gullible do you think I am?” knowing full well that in this day and age, of course they do.
And I was reminded of that scene from my favourite superhero movie, The Incredibles, where Mr Incredible is chided by his wife (Elastigirl if you recall) for not attending his kid’s similar grad from 2 single-digit grades. Part of his response was “they keep coming up with new ways to celebrate mediocrity.” A recurring theme in the film is that when everyone’s special, no one is.
And then I read the Tyee ‘review’ of Kung Fu Panda. Like so many computer animated films, this is a movie I want to like, but I’m pretty sure I won’t. That’s neither here nor there for the topic of this post. The important bit from the article is this:
In a recent article in The New Statesman entitled “The Kindergarchy: Every child a dauphin,” Joseph Epstein makes the argument that convincing children that they’re great often has the opposite effect.
Writes Epstein: “The consequences of so many years of endlessly attentive childrearing in young people can also be witnessed in many among them who act as if certain that they are deserving of the interest of the rest of us; they come off as very knowing. Lots of their conversation turns out to be chiefly about themselves, and much of it feels as if it is formulated to impress some dean of admissions with how very extraordinary they are.
Despite all the effort that has been put into shaping these kids, things, somehow, don’t seem quite to have worked out. Who would have thought that so much love in the home would result in such far from lovable children? But then, come to think of it, apart from their parents, who would have thought otherwise?”
Although Epstein’s rant has little too much “When I was your age…,” he has a point. You can see it reflected in a film like Kung Fu Panda, where the titular hero, having nothing but innate, albeit unrecognized genius, triumphs, while others of far greater ability and training fail. I hear similar stuff when my mother complains about her creative writing students who never bothered to learn the basic (boring) craft of writing, but nonetheless want to be commended for their natural and instinctive genius.
I agree with this. It seems to me that the Sesame Street mantra of You Are Special can easily be twisted into a license for laziness and complacency. That any potential is there seems to be enough for some, why bother to try to fulfill it?