Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Life Lessons

As we get older, we have more and more experiences that can be good or bad.  In fact, some can be miserable.  But, through it all, our attitude is the one thing we can control, the one thing that we can use to get us through tough situations. There are many situations in life that we encounter that are unfair or clearly wrong.  And in many of these situations, we can do nothing to remedy them.  The hardest part is just living with the injustice.  But, as we mature, we try and gain perspective.
This is a difficult life lesson.
As children, we are taught to be fair, to treat other's kindly and to know right from wrong.  Throughout childhood, we are continued to be taught these same lessons (and if we have good parents, we learn consequences for not practicing them).  We learn to do the right thing, to be decent and honest, even in a world where this is not the case.
How can we explain this to our children?  How can we teach them to do the right thing, when we know that there are situations that doing the right thing isn't the criteria for success?  How can we justify this to ourselves?

I bring this up because I am struggling with this issue right now.  My daughter participated in a poetry competition.  She made it to the final round at the high school, with the top 2 earn a $15,000 scholarship to a local college.
At tonight's competition, 8 students competed, reciting 2 poems each.  The director of the competition announced the criteria at the beginning of the rounds - appearance, annunciation, projection, accuracy and level of difficulty of the poem.  The director also announced the 3 judges - teachers at the high school.

We sat through all 8 contestants and 2 rounds of memorized poems.  (The poems were chosen by each student from a list of approved poems).  Each contestant did well.  They each had to get up on stage and use a microphone in front of the small audience who gathered.
I was impressed with the first round.  Each poem was original to the contestant, meaning that no poem was repeated in the first round.  The second round had one poem repeated.  So, for 16 readings, There were 15 poems read.  The first round went really well for all contestants, but in the second round, only 2 competitors gave a flawless performances. Ashley was one of them.
At the end the performance, the director called all the contestants on stage and handed out "participation certificates".
After the director thanked the judges, his peers and the local college, he announced the top two performers.  The results were not what you would expect.  Based on the criteria that the director stated in the beginning of the evening, the "winners" did not excel in those fields.  In fact, the winner's performance was so riddled with errors, both in stuttering and missing lines that there was a silence from the crowd when her name was announced.
The runner up gave a spirited performance and did deliver a top 4 performance, but she too had many mistakes in her delivery.  And, of the 8 participants, only 2 dressed in a way that merited being judged for appearance.
Was I disappointed that Ashley did not win?  Yes. I certainly felt that her performance was in the top 2.
 I felt that one contestant, a girl named Geneva, gave a flawless performance in both rounds and was truly deserving of the win.

But, what was most hard to swallow, was that the contestant deemed the winner had a performance that rated 6th in my book, not 1st.  The poems she chose were of a difficulty level of easy, she made errors, stuttered and stopped and started her performance.  Her appearance was also quite messy.   There was a similar situation with the runner up, although I felt her performance rated 3 or 4, not 2.

So, why the discrepancy with the winning votes and the performances?
Well, I think it is interesting to note that the two winning contestants have parents who are coworkers with the judges.  (I dare say that the judges awarded $15,000 scholarships to their friend's children.)  This was an award supposedly earned through competition, not nepotism cronyism.

There is nothing I can do about this unfair decision.  My place as parent was to sit back and support my daughter, to encourage her to push herself out of her comfort zone and to try new things.  She did just that.  My daughter stood onstage and recited 2 poems under a spotlight and looked comfortable, calm and poised the entire time!  I was so proud of her.  This was the same child that used to dread speaking to someone over the phone to make dinner reservations!  In looking at the bright side of things, she had a goal, worked hard and got up the nerve to speak in front of people.  This is a skill that will help her throughout life.  She has her parent's love and admiration.
Sometimes life is unfair and things do not work out as they should.  This is true.  But, it is possible to look past the negative and realize the good things that she made happen.  The choice is within each of us.

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