David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

Honor Off

Show me the man you honor, and I will know what kind of man you are remarked Thomas Carlyle. We don’t pressure our children suggest parents 150 years later. Yet breakfasting with my running buddies recently, I wondered if these two statements might impinge on one another.

After our seven-mile run (Motto: start out slow then taper off) we discussed the excellence of our betters. Did you hear about Bob Becker’s hundred miler last weekend? We chatted our 78-year-old friend’s incredible performance. Did you watch the Diana Nyad special? I wouldn’t want to be in a boat for that distance, never mind a shark cage in the middle of the ocean. Did you read about that guy who crossed the Atlantic solo in a 21-foot rowboat? I can’t imagine, you know I get seasick in a jacuzzi.

When my dad was in junior high, everyone agreed that the following were impossible, would never happen: No one would ever run a mile in under four minutes; no one would ever summit Mt. Everest; no one would ever go to the moon. Yet by the time my dad had met my mom in 1954, Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay were on top of the mountain and Roger Bannister had run 3:59. Another decade and a half later, Neil Armstrong took one small step.

All these feats fill me with awe, inspire me, help me get up at oh dark hundred to meet my running buddies. (Inspiration plus fear of impending mortality equals starting at 5:45 am.) I revel in what the human body and spirit can accomplish. I bask in the reflected glory of these extraordinary undertakings, Bob Becker, Diana Nyad, Dr. Bannister, and Neil Armstrong are all worthy of admiration. But is there a dark side as well, another interpretation of endeavor that is equally accessible? When we focus on the extraordinary with our kids might they get the wrong impression?

Our children’s takeaways could be strive for the best and you can do anything if you work hard enough. This author is strongly in favor of our children taking their best shot. But it’s a short distance from “do your best” to “you will never accomplish anything comparable” and “your best is not nearly enough.” Because nobody is ever going to run farther than Bob Becker and if anyone ever does cover more than 200-something miles in 72 hours that somebody is not going to be your kid.

I work with so many high school seniors who study six and seven hours a day, falling asleep with the light on and a book on their chest after midnight. Their free hours aren’t free at all, consumed with commitments to meaningless extracurriculars, volunteering when they could be reading, doing homework when they could be learning.

A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for suggested Robert Browning. But don’t be a darn fool about it, I might add.

Robert Browning

The answer for our beloved children is simple and straight-forward. Emphasize motivation rather than result. If you must cheer at your kids as they participate in athletics, spelling Bees, debate tournaments, contests hither and yon, accentuate how hard they tried rather than how many points they scored.

And while you’re talking about how unimaginably awesome Tua Tagovailoa was this season—29 TDs, 4624 yards!–you might also mention the guy down the street who took off work early last Friday so he and his kids could get the tents set up before dark at Collier-Seminole State Park. A positive word about a teacher’s aid and the cashier at the local market might go a long way toward communicating to your beloved children that not everyone whom you admire is outrageous, accomplished, and superhuman.

We might do well to honor ordinary accomplishments as well. Because the last thing we want to do is pressure our kids to the point of snapping because we only honor people who cross the Atlantic by themselves in a 21-foot rowboat.

Picture of David Altshuler 2

David Altshuler 2

One thought on “Honor Off

  1. Melissa Figge

    Oh Mr. A, ‘ya did it again. It’s that mental image of the kid with the book on their chest… and I know that kid will awaken hysterical for losing study time. But but but I need to be ready for that AP test, blah blah blah. What
    happened to us that our children forgot (or never learned) moderation and enjoyment? They will live to be 130 years old. It will happen in time…

    And yes, let’s all point out the wonderfulness of everyday helpers. They make the world go ’round. Thank you dry cleaner helper, market checker, street sweeper guy.

    Thank you teachers who make it your goal to encourage students and point out strengths.

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