The Adult Bible Class at the parish my family and I attend in Columbus, Georgia has spent the last couple of months studying the paradoxes of the Christian faith: God is one, yet three; Jesus is fully divine, yet fully human; we are simultaneously sinner and saint; we consume bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Altar, yet they are truly the Body and Blood of Christ. While it is logically frustrating at times to explain these paradoxes, we Christians (especially we Lutherans) do not struggle with them, as they are eternal truths revealed to us by our Lord and His Church.
So, in the spirit of living in paradox, I offer today’s column for your consideration. The paradox is this: The Emperor’s Chair is clearly frustrated with the narcissistic, greedy, and otherwise individualistic ways of our American culture – but I am equally frustrated with the common refrain that everyone is a winner. We are not all winners. Never have been – never will be. So get over your idea that “My Johnny is special.” He isn’t. He’s an average kid like everyone else.
Look, it is my earnest desire that our society (government) would do everything in its power to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. This is clearly not happening today, with growing disparities of wealth, education, health care, etc. becoming evident across most every segment of society. The haves continue to improve their lot in life, with the have-nots and almost-haves (middle class) increasingly falling behind. And these disparities must be fixed.
However, this does not mean that equal opportunity necessarily causes equal outcome. And it is on this point where my economic liberalism departs vehemently from any embrace of cultural liberalism. There are simply some people in the world who are smarter, stronger, more beautiful, etc. than others. And this is ok. We are not all the same and we should stop pretending that we are. We are all very different and should accept the fact that some will succeed more than others, that some will fail more often than others, that some will achieve great things, and that most will be like Johnny – average.
When we tell our children that everyone is a winner and teach them that nobody fails we do nothing to help them succeed in life. I see this regularly when a new class of Privates arrive to my Battalion and for the first time many of them are told they aren’t special. They are simply 1 of 220 in their Company, in a Battalion of 6 Companies, in a Brigade of 5 Battalions, that trains close to 20,000 Infantrymen per year. I tell these young Soldiers all the time that the measure of a man is not whether or not he fails (he most certainly will), but in how he responds to that failure. This idea is foreign to many of them because they have never been told that they can fail. They have never been told this because they have always been called a “winner”. And there is nothing like a Drill Sergeant to help you realize that you are not a winner!
It’s time for us to get over our fear of hurting people’s feelings about success in life. There is no utopia of equally successful individuals all achieving greatness. This is a lie that was born in the Garden when our first parents were tempted by such a utopia from the serpent. So, unless you have made arrangements with a royal family, your children are not princes or princesses. In all likelihood they are not a sports prodigy or an academic genius. Do not tell them that they are the best at everything they do, because this too is a lie and when they do fail later in life your lie will only devastate them all the more.
Everyone is not a winner. Most people fail and do so often. But being a winner is such an arbitrary term that holds little substantive meaning. So get over it. Get over your desire to puff yourself up and the egos of your kids. We will not always succeed at everything we do, and the sooner we accept this reality the better off our society will be.