Before I even start, I want to thank my friend Anne Theriault of the Belle Jar for her encouragement today and for sending me this article to read when I needed to get away from the other. Though Glennon’s piece is not a response to this article by Matt Walsh, it has said exactly what I feel should be said in response. As I finished reading it, I sighed and thought, “Yes. This.”
Yesterday my Facebook thread lit up with a variety of people sharing Matt Walsh’s article, “If I Can’t Accept You at Your Worst, Then Maybe You Should Stop Being So Horrible”. Based on who posted it, I expected to like it. But I didn’t like it and the more I thought about it the less I liked it.
This article’s basic stance is that if we teach everyone that they are special they will either feel patronized or believe it and become self-serving and horrible. It blames good self-esteem and feeling special for the selfish behaviour that causes problems in marriages and other relationships. Matt Walsh argues that we shouldn’t be praising mediocrity by telling average kids that they are special.
I think that saying we shouldn’t teach our kids that they are special is wrong. I think that saying that we shouldn’t be instilling a sense of self-esteem is wrong. I’m not talking about a blind sense of “everything I do is awesome because I’m awesome and everything is about ME!” narcissism, I’m talking about a child knowing that he or she is important and valuable. We need to empower our kids to know their strengths. To teach them and show them how to use those strengths. And more importantly, we need to teach kids that other kids are just as special and valuable too.
This article says that we should only be giving trophies to those who earn them. We should only be praising those who achieve great success. Unlike this, we could teach kids that everyone is special and THIS could happen (please watch this – it’s only 2 minutes long and it is beautiful):
In this video, high school senior, Noah Van Vooren, has been the water boy of a football team through all of high school. He has down syndrome. He was not a naturally talented athlete. He has never played in a game but has been a valuable member of this team for years. In this, his final home game, his team co-ordinated with the team they are against to let him play and to achieve his first touchdown.
Noah was never the highest scorer. He was never the most talented player on his team. However, his spirit and cheer were always there. He never got discouraged when he wasn’t the best. He IS special. And giving him the game ball was absolutely no kind of wrong. This man deserves a participation trophy (because that’s what those little gold trophies are, a sign of your continued participation) as much or more than anyone else on that team.
Now I know what you’re going to say: this article wasn’t talking about disabled kids, that’s different! But it isn’t. Noah is not special because he has down syndrome. He is special because of his drive and his character. Look at what he was able to do! This is all about his ability.
Some kids are naturally smarter, some naturally talented or gifted in some way. Some have exceptionally supportive families. Some have resources that others do not have. They are not more special, they are more privileged.
Isn’t one of the most important aspects of team sports learning to work as a team and learning that everyone is an important member – that when we work together we are stronger than when we work alone? Then why in that team sport would it make sense to always give all recognition to the highest scorer? What is the child that takes the ball home after every single game going to be taught about the rest of his team mates?
That child is already the best on the team. They are likely a naturally talented player. They have probably had to work hard, however, they probably haven’t had to work as hard as some others have worked just to make the team. Are we to teach them that their privilege is what makes them special? You want to create a narcissist, that’s how you’ll do it.
Perhaps we give out the ball one game to the kid that gets the grand slam then the next game to the kid that was most encouraging to others. See, everyone can be special, everyone can be taught that their specific skill set or what they have been given allows them to be a special and integral member of a team.
If no one is special, there’s no reason to treat anyone well. We can be whatever we want, say whatever we want, and act however we want. Being horrible to someone else doesn’t matter because they aren’t special. However, if everyone is just as special as you, everyone needs to be treated with love, compassion, respect, and grace. Your friends, co-workers, husbands, wives all deserve the best you can offer.
What Matt Walsh seems to have missed is that it’s not about teaching each child “you are the special one” it’s about teaching each child that “every one is special”.