OPINION – I recently had the pleasure of meeting a young man who had just been awarded his Eagle Scout rank.
I thought to myself that I must be getting older because, when I was in Scouting, the boys looked a little closer to men as they neared completing the arduous journey of the highest rank in the Boy Scouts. So I asked him how old he was.
“I’m 14,” he said.
Surprised but not yet cynical, I asked how he had accomplished it in such a short span of time. He simply shrugged and said his parents helped him.
He was an affable young fellow and seemed a little uncomfortable with the questions I was asking, so I diverted the conversation to sport climbing, which we were engaged in at the time. Having the end of a rope handy, I asked him to tie himself into his harness. He said he did not know how.
Not a big deal, I showed him the proper knot. There was a nagging within me though to press the point. Did he know any other knots? I asked him to tie a bowline and, when he could not do that, I decided to let it go. No point in embarrassing him but there was no doubt about it, this young man appeared to lack the skills of a bona fide Eagle Scout. And it stuck with me.
Reflecting on the encounter later, I kept thinking about his quick explanation that he achieved his Eagle Scout early because his parents had helped him.
“More like did it for him,” I thought.
I cannot imagine anyone would disagree with this but the thing of it is: If his parents did do it for him, they did not help him at all. They may have even hurt him some.
And the question is, why?
I find it an example of so many “achievements” reached today in which the appearance of accomplishment is more important than the actual accomplishment.
In the case of this young man, his parents, likely with the absolute best of intentions for their son, robbed him a little of the courage of conviction and power of integrity that comes from working out life’s challenges on his own.
Furthermore, his credibility is in question not only to himself, as he knows deep down he did not earn it on his own, but also amongst his peers, where he will be inauthentic as he is inevitably found out.
The “Eagle Scout” I encountered is not an isolated case. The value placed on a title or award over the real achievement is pandemic in our culture.
It is almost too easy to use technology to present an image of success or competence or credibility. It is easy to put a brand name on a business or institution, for example, in an attempt to elevate it in the eyes of the public. But if it is not authentic, then it is just a title.
And the same technology that allows one to perpetuate a ruse can be used to expose it as well. But, I did not need a computer or a search engine to learn that the young man I mentioned was barely, if at all, qualified to wear such a prestigious title as Eagle Scout. Titles only take you so far, eventually your performance – or lack thereof – will bear you out.
Had this young man been a little older, say, at a greater age of accountability, I might not have been as gracious in refraining from exposing his audacious claims. Had the boy been an organization or institution, my desire to expose a pretentious claim would be all the more determined.
Because the appearance of accomplishment is not accomplishment and everybody knows it.
In the case of my new young friend, I have chosen instead to climb with him and encourage him to take on the challenges himself and to ask for real help only insofar as he needs it. I believe that then he can hold his head up, having succeeded or failed on his own merits; and no one will question his authenticity.
Pretending is harmful; not in the least when it plays out in a political or academic community.
See you out there.
Dallas Hyland is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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