Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Pinnacle of Achievement

I read yet another story today about a child of 14 whose mother is now ready to let her attempt a solo round-the-world sail. FOURTEEN. 

Most daredevil feats like this seem to end in tears. One ended just a short while ago with a rescue by the Australian navy. Almost by definition, they odds must be stacked against you. If they weren't, these wouldn't be feats. Often, the daredevil him/herself has some mechanism for addressing the potential downside. When Richard Branson decides to hot air balloon again, he has the gabillions of dollars needed to ensure his safe and effective rescue. He's Richard Branson. When some California chick needs saving by the Aussie Navy, I imagine some Australians tax dollars foot the bill. 

But finances aside, I am having trouble with the message this is teaching our children. Here they are, primed to risk life and limb to accomplish something that would challenge an adult of twice their age. And they are being prompted to accomplish it to set a record, which, by definition, requires them to do it sooner rather than later. 2 more years of training and this girl no longer has a record to set. Time is their enemy.

Why all this focus on such achievement? Have the values of modern society addled the brains of youth so much that they cannot envision a valuable future without international fame? Through reality TV, sporting greatness or fashion model fame, children everywhere think they need to achieve wikipedia pages - and before they turn 30 - in order to truly be .... happy? accomplished? cool?

Contrast that with the challenges of normal life these days. The average family is suffering from the recession. Keeping their home can be an act of heroic achievement this year. Feeding and clothing children might require feats of strength. Heck, even if the economy isn't getting you, let's consider some of the other achievements that we cannot take for granted:

  • Raising healthy, socially stable and functional children
  • Eating right and exercising, so as to not become overweight
  • Earning your own keep by your mid-twenties
  • Finding happiness - at any age 
None of these are easy - as any adult will tell you. All are tests of stamina, willpower and strength. All are their own rewards. All are accompanied by absolutely no mention in wikipedia. 

So let's say the little dutch girl goes around the world. And succeeds. Then what? Ceremonies and gold medals, sure. She might even have a spot in the Dutch Olympic sailing team for 1-2 rounds. And then become a sailing instructor, presumably... and get married. Have a couple kids. Maybe a pet bunny... and she'll be right back there with the rest of us, working on the real goals.  If she's lucky.

If she's unlucky - she may not survive. Or, she might live out her days telling the tale of her life's greatest accomplishment... Living in the 14-year-old past. 


Capt. BS said...

Do we know whether the mother plans to charter a helicopter to hover over the sailboat for the duration of its journey? Because that would be comic-strip worthy.

PD said...

it seems to me that achievement of goals has replaced achievement of personal happiness and one-ness with family, friends and God. so say the buddha.

PD said...