Participation trophies, consolation prizes, and well-being

Participation trophies, consolation prizes, and well-being

The late Kobe Bryant has some thoughts on participation trophies and awards:

“I said, ‘Well, listen, get the fourth-place trophy, go home. You take the fourth-place trophy, you put it up right where you can see it. And when you wake up in the morning, you look at the trophy and you remind yourself of what you’ll never win again.'”

Although Kobe’s take on participation trophies refer to the context of competition, it can also be framed as a critique to how we approach work ethic.

In my courses and our department, we have always advocated for a kind of management that protects dignity and promotes well-being — in essence, humanistic management. This is an evolution from a more traditional and mainstream look at management where productivity and efficiency are the only things that matter and not the integral humanity of the person.

However, the challenge is balancing the pursuit of exemplary performance with the maintenance of one’s holistic health. And, maybe, the reason why participation trophies and consolation prizes came to be is because we want to recognize that participation in itself is an important step.

…But, what exactly are trophies and prizes for? Aren’t “participation trophies” and “consolation prizes” oxymoronic terms? Why do we have to “award” doing the “bare minimum”? Are our mental health, well-being, and ego that fragile that if we do not get awards for basic participation, we will feel offended and devastated?

The performance of dignified work itself (assuming we had the power to choose the work we did and were not forced to) should be fulfilling in itself. Expecting recognitions for doing the bare minimum is just fooling ourselves; it inflates our ego.

Personally, we can count our small wins and celebrate our milestones. But it should not be the obligation of the world to reward a person who only performed their minimum obligation.

Luke 17:7-10. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'”


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