I’m not in favor of participation trophies and not highlighting a winner if there is something to be won — the fastest time in a race, the best score in a test, staying alive the longest in a spelling bee, getting more goals in a sports game. But there’s a difference between a participation trophy (which some believe takes away from the person in the spotlight and rewards “mediocrity” or simply showing up), and seeing the good in our differences.
My boys are growing up fast, but they’re still in the mood for arts and crafts sometimes. Last night, with their new canvas boards and acrylic paints, they decided to each paint a Spiderman face. One subject. Three artists. Three interpretations. Three approaches. Three very different outcomes. And one hidden lesson.
When they were all finished, my youngest son came to me and asked me to judge which was the best. Before I could even open my mouth, another son jumped in with “She will NEVER EVER say that one of our creations is the best. She’s going to say they’re all equally great.”
He was right . . . sort of. In the case of painting Spiderman, how is “best” defined? It’s not clear cut if you ask me. But what is clear is that my three boys, each with different strengths, personalities, talents, challenges, patience, and skill, each created something I loved and that I wanted them to be proud of (not to mention, the painting activity occupied them for more than 15 minutes and miraculously – for once – did not become a full contact sport!). So instead of voting on “the best,” I named one “the most creative interpretation,” one “the most innovative technique,” and one “the most detailed.” My votes got an eye roll or two — OK, three — at first, but when each kid walked away with a smile on his face, proud to be recognized for the good in what he had done, it all worked out just fine.
Did you know one of my sons is currently obsessed with all things Spiderman, and it was his idea to do the painting in the first place? That he had a vision in mind when he started, and was willing to put in the time to create in multiple layers and sections, letting one part dry before going back to complete another?
Did you know another of my sons is far less interested in super-heroes and in arts & crafts in general, that he likes to get things done quickly, his way, without any intervention from others?
And did you know that another has an imagination that expands like a spiral of shooting stars, with one project triggering another idea, and then another, and another?
You probably didn’t know. And you didn’t have to to be able to see that all three creations, though vastly different outcomes to the same initial “assignment,” are perfect reflections of my boys. Pointing out the good in each painting is a teeny tiny step toward teaching them about seeing the good in our differences. They would have loved for me to have chosen “the best,” but in looking at the very different outcomes and approaches, the dialogue changed from “Mine is the best!” to realizing how cool it was that they all came out so differently. Embrace the tiny steps — they just may help spread the kindness and tolerance the world needs more of right now.