As a child, I was forced to participate in that hellish event embraced by schools across the country: Track and Field Day. I would spend my day making futile attempts to contort my limbs into semi-coordinated positions, struggling to convince my teachers that I wanted to be there and that I was making an effort.
At first it was easy, but by third grade, and after several second-place ribbons, I had come to the realization that I was not, nor would I ever be, a first-place athlete. From then on, I approached Track and Field Day with a pessimistic attitude.
Recently, I’ve heard of a trend where students are given participation ribbons for merely attending Track and Field Day — an event, which I might mention, is often-times mandatory for your physical education grade. These participation ribbons are placed into the hands of every student who is involved, commending them for their “efforts,” and congratulating them for “trying their best.” Meant with the best intention of telling every child that they are perfect little angels who can succeed at anything with little to no effort, these awards have actually had a devastating effect on pessimists, a group of people who are highly misunderstood by the masses.
While I am sure the optimists of the world, the kids who tried their darndest because they know that “you don’t have to be a winner to feel like you’ve won,” will appreciate the ribbons, for the rest of us, it’s a slap in the face. You cannot force a person to feel pride in their accomplishments, especially when that pride is not deserved because nothing was accomplished, and when everyone else gets a ribbon anyway. They say, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” But unless you have some sugar and water, your lemonade is going to taste like crap. When life hands you a ribbon you don’t deserve, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
I have been living my life as a pessimist for twelve years, and it has not been easy. Everyday I wake up, pour myself a half-empty glass of orange juice and read the paper, knowing that the world is crap and so is everyone in it. I entered my Track and Field Day fully expecting to place last, and not setting myself up for disappointment by trying, and then some idiot of a teacher would flounce up with a great big smile painted on their face, and pin a sparkly little ribbon on my sweat-free shirt, squealing “Congratulations, you’re ALL winners!” — a highly false and damaging statement to someone who did not try at all.
People need to stop lumping pessimists in with the rest of society, treating us like optimists and saying “If you try, maybe you’ll surprise yourself!” Well, I’m a twenty-year-old woman, and I think I know myself pretty well, so the only surprises I get are bloating and cramps — which aren’t much of a surprise at this point. But I digress.
Pessimists should not be pressured to feel like they’ve accomplished something if they do not choose to be. I dream of a day when we have abolished the participation award, and pessimists are allowed to live without fear of unwarranted praise. But let’s be honest — that will never happen.