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The free trophy syndrome

Can I get a Nobel Prize too? I had a great thought back in 1981. I thought, “Ronald Reagan is in a perfect position to negotiate a major reduction in the nuclear warhead stockpile based on the fact that he is a hardliner and can negotiate from a position of strength.” I can’t remember, but I may …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Can I get a Nobel Prize too? I had a great thought back in 1981. I thought, “Ronald Reagan is in a perfect position to negotiate a major reduction in the nuclear warhead stockpile based on the fact that he is a hardliner and can negotiate from a position of strength.” I can’t remember, but I may even have written him a letter telling him that. And then, would you believe it, that’s what happened. I think I deserve a prize.

Prizes and trophies used to mean something. They distinguished those who, because of their achievement, stood out from the crowd. Of course we all need encouragement and cheering is important, but now legions of soccer moms and dads cheer their little Johnny through a season and at the end hold an awards ceremony. Everybody’s name is called and one by one they come up to the front to get their trophy.
The trophies mean nothing. Of course the kids don’t know it. They’ve not been around long enough to know that life doesn’t work that way, that in order for there to be good, there must be bad, that the bell curve is a law of nature. But over time, disappointment will dawn on them by degrees as they feel the harshness of life with no awards ceremony at the end. When their bosses fire them for nonperformance, they’ll start to wake up and get a chiropractic adjustment of their value system.
For years we’ve had grade-inflation in our schools. But even as our grade averages have gone up, our test scores have gone down. And now we’re eating a politically correct Brunswick stew of values where everyone’s a winner.
We parents have become addicted to enabling. As they get older, we have a hard time quitting our cheerleader-in-chief roles. We
want to attach a thousand little booster rockets to our 25 year-old who
still lives in the basement. But inadvertently we stunt his growth by not allowing him to feel the affects of his lack of performance.


Just for a second I’d like to ask a few  questions: Can there be justice in a society where every action is celebrated and there are no losers? Where do the warriors go when the ones who kept the peace were the people who thought great thoughts without having to back those thoughts with action?
And what will become of the value of courage when it becomes the same as thinking noble thoughts?
The video below illustrates my point (thanks, Mike).

Comments (7)

  • Enabling mediocrity and rooting for our kids… seems like a delicate balance. We go all over the world sending the message that you do not have to despair, there is hope… but we do not cheer our own kids on? I’m sure this is not what you mean to say. Hebrews 3: 13 is one of my life verses. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you ay be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Parenting is about being an example of God to our kids… prototype if you will. False praise is detrimental… but we must NEVER forget the power of parents in the life of their children. Giving our kids blessing is a theme throughout the Bible. NOTHING is ever so important that we do not have time to be involved in our kids lives speaking truth to them and believing in them! I’ve seen too many ministry kids who are over achievers… but dead in the inside because they do not have a healthy sense of just “being”, enjoying life, and being content with the life God has given them. I think we need to be careful that we do not play God and assume we know when is the time for our kids next challenge. Growing up is ultimately when our kids transfer that parent figure to God… I want to be a truthful example (parent) of what it means to be a child of the KING. When a child tries with all their heart and still cannot achieve an “A,” how awesome to come home to a family that is encouraging and believing! Adults who have not experienced comfort and encouragement and nurture from their parents will suffer till they are able to understand that is NOT the way God planned it and HE is there ALL the time speaking truth and encouragement to HIS children. All kinds of unhealthy “white collar” habits (addictions) come from this insatiable hunger to fell loved and approved. W

    We MUST remember that either extreme will damage our kids!

  • Did not Jesus say they will know us by our love? Sometimes I meet believers who are so intent on teaching their children to be over comers and warriors for the cause of Christ that I fail to see compassion, grace and love. I think we all want the same thing… strong kids who love God with all their hearts, souls, and minds, persevere-rs and not apathetic quitters, having brave hearts. It takes ALOT of strength and courage to be moved with compassion for one who is choosing evil to satisfy their soul instead of disgust with their sinfulness.

    May be I’m getting off the subject. Trophies. When I had the opportunity of leading a ministry that was dying with apathy and uninvolvement (children’s ministry), it was amazing how the passion for the kingdom was awaken through encouragement, noticing what people WERE doing, giving trophies for the littlest things, creating an atmosphere of love and encourgement. In 5 years time, the group grew from around 50 to over 100–all working together to grow the next generation. I guess I’m just tired of hearing believers calling each other whimps and apathetic. As long as people keep hearing that, they’ll wear that label. No one wakes up saying “I want to be a whimp today.” I think it’s a symptom and not the problem.

    So maybe that’s why this post REALLY got under my skin! God has called me to influence and encourage the best out of others and be compassionate and have wisdom when others lack courage to get into the game. That involves giving “at-a-boys” for the smallest things to bring encouragement and awaken the hope that they really can be someone other than a zero.

  • “In the last days people will become lovers of themselves”

    I suppose “The free trophy syndrome” is something that is growing from this self centred spirit. Everyone wants to be valued but in their own eyes they see their worth therefore EVERYTHING needs to be rewarded. It is man awarding himself for all his “wonderful” things.

    The standards are dropping and will continue to drop in society…..Satan constantly rubbing the line out and drawing another one closer to himself.

    Political correctness,alternative lifestyles,accepting the saying “there are many ways to God” (because if you dont your classed as someone causing racial hatred) and “Free trophy syndrome” are all part of the same thing…..one big veil of a lie and decption that the enemy throws like a blanket over this world to keep feeding the SELF centred spirit.And sad to say it isnt going to get any better, only a CHRIST centered life will save us from this downward slope.

    Great blog Seth!

  • I think the converse is true. Because so many people get celebrated for so many things, it’s hard to live with being someone who isn’t celebrated. The sense of uselessness and inability to achieve is further highlighted and the gap is made wider. The fact that winners are celebrated so much makes the losers somehow even more of a loser and destroys hope and self esteem.

    It’s stunting either way. If you have a cheerleading parent that never lets up, as you say, you never experience the consequences of your own lack of performance when you should. But if you don’t have anyone rooting for you, you can think you are less than you are and give up. More important than trophies is having someone who believes in you so you can dare to believe in yourself. Without that, your warriors and risk takers will stay at home.

    The eternal search for balance.

  • What damages our kids is when we “Steal the hunt” from them. This generation is so spoiled, so celebrated, that they have turned out to be just like the Israelites in the desert! Provision never runs out, their shoes never ware, and the wonder around complaining, wondering why?

    I have coached football, softball, others for 10 years; I am raising 6 kids, 4 whom are great competitors and given my life for the past 20 to the next generation – if we do not make them earn it, fight for it – if we keep giving trophies for just participation; we will loose another generation to complacency and victims… warriors and over comers are born out of adversity and making it work anyway; when we hand it to them we steal away the very thing that will make them great!

  • Hi Ruthann,

    Good to hear all your comments. I don’t think Seth was saying we shouldn’t encourage by whatever means are appropriate. Just that it is important for personal growth to experience the lows as well as the highs and learn through them. Celebration is good, lack of it is awful. It can be hard to let our kids hurt when they get it wrong or realise the consequences of mistakes. Jesus is a Redeemer for sure, He can turn anything around for good. But without the lows and living through them, the highs aren’t as meaningful.

    You keep encouraging! Absolutely right. It’s diving in and saving all the time, protecting people from the consequences of their errors that doesn’t benefit them in the long term. Maturity comes from truth, facing it, walking through it learning all the way, so you are then in a place to pass it on to anyone else who wants to learn too. In fact if you haven’t suffered at all in your walk with Christ, you are unlikely to be able to give the depths of compassion possible. That comes when your heart has been broken and you know your dependence on Him because you can’t do it yourself. And you have to feel the lows to know your need of Him. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is!

    Blessings on you and your work and ministry.

  • So our Prez got a Peace prize because he admonished Jews and Palestinians to live together in peace on the west bank of the Jordan River. And Reagan should have gotten one for building weapons? Meaningless, says the Teacher.

    We, followers of the Prince of Peace, stand on the Mt. of Olives anticipating Messiah’s return. We wait, across from the mountaintop where law-obsessed descendants of Abraham– Jews and Muslims– argue over sites for their holy shrines.

    We stand, and wait for Messiah’s return, and for the manifestation of his perfect kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. We stand and sing:

    “On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
    the emblem of suffering and shame.
    And I love that old cross
    where the dearest and best
    in a world of lost sinners was slain.
    I will cling to the old rugged cross
    ’til my trophies at last I lay down.
    I will cherish the old rugged cross,
    and exchange it someday for a crown.”

    Whatever courage propels men to acts of great bravery and sacrifice is but meaningless chaff when laid at the nail-scarred feet of the Lion who laid down his life as a Lamb.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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