Participation Ribbons: Culture of Entitlement

"You'll all get ribbons, but only three will count!"
I've heard rumblings for years now (YEARS!) of adults pointing to the participation ribbon as the source of what has caused a claimed downfall of my generation onward. This "feel good" culture that has mollycoddled my generation into absolute ruin! It made us want something for nothing!


As if each aging generation before us hasn't looked upon the next one with condemnation. From their high horse of experience, they look down and think "my god, we were never that stupid!"

Face it people:

Teens are Dumb

The Reminiscence Bump
Yes, myself included! No matter how many facts you knew, you were still dumb. Let's make a distinction between knowledge - facts, figures, info - from maturity - emotional control, experience, insight. Teens can have amazing amounts of knowledge, but generally lack the maturity. Thus they unfailingly do stupid things.

There's something called the Reminiscence bump which means that we tend to remember more of our memories between 10 and 30. This should mean that people would remember themselves being at their dumbest, right? Not necessarily.

See, there's another effect that comes into play, and it's known as Rosy Retrospection. This is where we misremember past events more positively than they actually occurred at the time, with greater effects on already mildly pleasant events. This seems to be the case because negative autobiographical memories tend to fade "dramatically faster" from memory than positive ones. Bottom line with this one: We like to remember ourselves as pretty great. Hell, we also like to remember our current selves as even better (egocentric bias).

The back parts read "Shame" and "Loser"
Let's forget for a second that we typically look back at our badass younger selves and think daaaamn! Let's forget that the comparison between our illusory selves would make the actual reality of youth seem like a steaming pile. Move past that for a second and think about these ribbons themselves.

Proof of Failure

I was not a very athletically gifted kid. The fact that I'm writing this post of my own volition in my free time might be further evidence of this. In other words: I got a lot of participation ribbons - and very few placement ones.

Let's jump back to before participation ribbons, shall we? Back in the day, you only got a ribbon if you succeeded to land in the top 3 of an event, right? This means you went home, ribbon in hand, or you didn't. If you didn't place, you went home empty handed. That's not so bad, really.

In other words: you went home with the lack of evidence of success. You simply didn't have a ribbon.

Instead, with participation ribbons, you go home with a fist full of goddamn failure! Instead of the lack of success you're then sent home with physical evidence! And this is supposed to have pumped us up and made us feel oh-so-special that we needed everything on a platter? Bullshit. Is it not possible that something else might have played a factor, perhaps?

Why Self-Esteem?

Is this supposed to be good?
Let's follow the logic a bit deeper: Where did these Badges of Shame begin? I can't be certain, but I point the finger at the self-esteem movement. It seemingly began because studies had found that high-performing students had self-esteem! Can you imagine? Someone felt good because they earned some sort of accolades or pride through effort and time! Holy shit, mind blowing.

Of course, people need a base amount of self-worth or else they won't bother trying. Don't need no learned helplessness, but are ribbons going to fix that? Now your empty shelf can tally your failures for you!

Which asinine fool looked at that data and thought "if only we could make everyone have high-self esteem, then everyone will have great grades!" That's the wrong direction of causality! Follow me some more, will you? Just a bit further.

Goals Reached

I'm not sure how this plays in,
but it's a cool pic
What happens when you prop someone up on an illusion of high-achievement? Suppose you've successfully tricked someone into thinking they deserve respect and, possibly, special treatment. They deserve better because they are better. Suppose we have actually achieved this as our goal with these damned* ribbons. What happens with those individuals when something challenges their genuinely-held belief of demi-godhood? Do they look back and pull close their dearly held memories of success and achievement? Oh, they most certainly would - except they can't. Instead of grasping that lifeline, they find themselves falling through the emotional blackness into the fires of rage. It's the exact opposite of the imposter syndrome - they feel they're great, but aren't. They've got nothing to prop them up, except the delusional belief. These beliefs will be challenged at some point and they'll be pissed. Congratulations, you've made a generation of assholes.

Again, this is following the logical conclusion behind raising everyone's self-esteem for the sake of grades.

Let's recap

Going back down that road
The ribbons feel as though they've had three probable outcomes:
  • They were evidence of failure, making people feel worse because it would be nearly impossible for them to have more placement ribbons than failure ribbons
  • They bought into the thinly veiled ruse and thought they were the shit, but would have a hair-trigger for lashing out.
  • Nothing. They had such a little effect that people largely ignored them instead of letting them shape their lives.
That's right, after all that ranting I am saying that the ribbons didn't do jack. If there is a "Culture of Entitlement," I sincerely doubt that a silly ribbon and some minor initiatives in grade school made a significant, lasting difference. More than anything, the "Me-culture" happened because people want stuff, and the internet has done wonders for that.

+100 to Appeal

We all want things for free 

All of us. My Gen just happened to be born at a time where most information - including movies, books, and music - is all freely available. The internet has only exaggerated our natural tendency for wanting something for nothing. Despite the best efforts of the dinosaurs sinking in the tar, information is still largely free if you know where to look. This is what has shaped mankind's future, not those silly ribbons.

Those ribbons might as well not exist in comparison with the impact of e-commerce and piracy. The internet has done more to shape all of our lives than any minor state/provincial-level initiative ever could.

Clearly, we are an entitled species. The only difference may be that the newer generations know more about finding free things online than our more senior friends. Everyone would think as we currently do if they were born in the age of the internet.

*They literally are! People have been condemning them for a long time!

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