Conservative columnist Bethany Mandel says that rewarding failure has become an “American Epidemic.” In a recent op-ed in the New York Post she “pointed to a New Jersey high school’s ‘inclusive’ policy that essentially allows a spot for every student who tries out for the cheerleading squad, doing away with skill-based selections, and the New York City Fire Department giving a female applicant an $81,000-a-year desk job after she repeatedly failed physical exams at the training academy.” 1
In the case of the cheerleading squad, Mandel wrote, “The proverb is simple: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ But a teenage girl and her mom in New Jersey figured out how to circumvent that difficult ‘trying’ part — by whining until success was easily achieved. At Hanover Park High School last month, a mother complained when her daughter got cut after cheerleading tryouts. Instead of telling her tough luck, the athletic director placated the mom and changed the team’s policy, allowing any wannabe cheerleader to join the squad. Naturally this upset the kids who made the team fair and square, and they brought their grievances to the school board.”
“Despite its reputation, cheerleading isn’t just about shaking pompoms and yelling catchy chants. Squad members practice gymnastic maneuvers that require strength, flexibility and flair. Now there will be cheerleaders on the team who won’t possess enough of these skills, while those who do have seen their talents devalued. Giving guaranteed slots to willing participants may make a team seem more inclusive, but it won’t force its members to be. People given an easy pass are unlikely to be met with open arms by those who earned their way. And what happens to those who are accepted on the basis of ‘inclusion' rather than merit?” 2
“We’re not doing anyone any favors by opening the floodgates to the FDNY or even a cheerleading squad,” Mandel wrote. “Those given an easy way in end up having lower feelings of self-worth, because they know they didn’t earn their spot and have to face those who did every day. It’s humiliation – not charity.” 3
All across the country participation trophies and awards are given to kids just for showing up. Not for doing anything or accomplishing anything. Instead, the award is for “being there.”
Is that the recipe for success? It sounds inclusive but the reality is, it’s insane. Just yesterday, the University of Chicago dropped the SAT and ACT exams from their admission requirements, becoming the first elite college to do so. The new policy is being praised for its inclusive nature. My question is: Isn't this an educational institution? Do they have a history department? Where is the example of any organization or institution who lowered their standards, expectations and/or requirements and got better results?
What if the standard practice in business becomes, “Well, if that’s too hard for you, you don’t have to do it?”
Bethany was a guest on Fox Network’s signature program, “Fox & Friends” and she said the “participation trophy phenomenon” comes at an emotional and developmental cost, and it’s happening across the board. She pointed out that the New York State Education Department Board of Regents eliminated a requirement that aspiring teachers in the state pass a literacy test to become certified. "You want your kids’ teachers to be able to read, but it was too hard for the teachers to pass, so they eliminated it,” Mandel said. 2
She also said some British schools are replacing their analog clocks with digital clocks because kids can’t read them. “We’re teaching them that if this is too hard for you, we’re just going to get rid of it.” 3
Are we prepared to pay people even though they don’t do their jobs? A phenomenon that already occurs in many sectors of the marketplace, even in ministry. What kind of football team would you have when the coach says, “If practices are too hard for you in August, just show up Friday night in September for our first home game”? Something that, ironically, already happens in the NFL where preseason football is anything but.
What gets rewarded gets repeated. In other words, reward failure and you’ll get more.
In an article for Harvard Business Review, Ron Ashkenas said rewarding failure is a dangerous pattern. He cited the outsized bonuses awarded to high level executives of financial institutions that failed. He concluded, “If we are serious about asking for excellent performance, then we have to stop rewarding failure.” 4
Mandel pointed out it wasn’t just the New York Fire Department or the High School in New Jersey who have lowered their standards. She said, “When some women were unable to pass the fitness test for combat positions in the Marines, one of the most difficult endurance tests for female recruits was removed. And as low levels of unemployment reduced their pool of potential enlistees, the Army started allowing at least 4 percent of those scoring at the bottom third of its aptitude tests into basic training (up from 2 percent). The Army also expanded its waivers for marijuana use, so where once a history of taking pot was disqualifying, it no longer is.” 5
Guess we could rewrite Scripture, so that instead of Paul saying, “Run in such a way to get the prize,” (1 Corinthians 9:24) we could say, “Just come to a few worship services each year.” Or we could rephrase what Jesus said about being faithful “until death, and I will give you the crown of life …” (Revelation 2:10) and we could just have Him say, “It really doesn’t matter how you live or what you do. As long as I know you really want to go to Heaven someday … we’re good.” Instead of tithing, (the biblical baseline of giving 10% - Malachi 3:8-12; Matthew 22:21; 23:23; Proverbs 3:9-10) we could tell people, “just give whatever you want, whenever you want.”
The possibilities are endless. But so are the liabilities.
In a world obsessed with lowering the standards so everyone is included and no one could possibly be offended, stands a God Who has never lowered His. He wants everyone included, but says there is only one way to Heaven, through His Son, Jesus (John 14:6). He says there is only one gate to life and it is narrow (Matthew 7:13-14). Anyone can enter through that gate, but we have to do it His way, the narrow way, not ours.
What gets rewarded gets repeated. In other words, reward failure and you’ll get more. Instead, we ought to raise the bar and raise the standards, encouraging people, young and old alike, to work hard, do whatever it takes, give it your best and watch what happens. Not only will our football teams win more games, but business people will make more sales, and those in ministry will win more souls.
Rewarding failure is not the recipe for success. Jesus said, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12).
In reality we honor God when we do our absolute best, give it all we’ve got and work hard. The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men … ” Why? Because …
… We are serving Him! (Colossians 3:23-25)
© 2018. Barry L. Cameron
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.