Occasionally, and maybe because Americans get twitchy when no ready arguments appear at hand, small cultural skirmishes break out.
Residents of the developing world, with concerns over finding drinkable water and avoidance of disease, do not worry much about the icons that appear on Starbucks cups each Yuletide season.
It brings to mind a thin soup ladled in past years about the care and feeding of what the nation refers to as Millennials, or Generation Y, or whatever.
(Here lies another case of at-leisure Americanism, the need to label groups of people as a homogeneous whole.)
Specifically, one side believed folks born within a specified range of years to be a mollycoddled bunch of crybabies, growing up carefree and soft and not knowing the hardships of elders who had to endure rotary dial phones.
Even within the context of the old-as-dirt dynamic of one generation raising an eyebrow at the next, this strain seemed particularly profound. Or maybe it just had better branding.
A name emerged, and a snappy one at that: Universal Trophyism.
That’s right. No matter the endeavors of these whippersnappers, everybody got a trophy.
Prevailing research, and common sense, may demonstrate that positive reinforcement can yield great dividends in the formation of young humans, but a segment of the population, presumably “anti-trophyists,” finds this an abdication of national toughness.
Kids, they say, should be out there in the rough-and-tumble of life, learning to build fires, camp in the woods, practice first aid, hike long distances. (Actually, these are great skills. For such activities, young people used to get merit badges, which are just flat trophies worn on a sash.)
Last week, I attended a baseball game of one of my grandsons. He took a step up from T-ball to a coach-pitch league, a leap in skill level but still where he and teammates need occasional reminders to focus less on buzzing insects and more on, you know, the game.
Shouts of parent spectators came off as unfailingly optimistic. Applause rose with every ball hit in fair territory, no matter the team allegiance. The ting of aluminum against a sort of rubberized horsehide seemed a reason for real celebration.
Had this been one of those touchy-feely stereotypes of a youth-league game, the coaches would be known as “proficiency augmentation specialists.” Instead, they were just dads in cargo shorts supporting their kids running around outdoors.
No doubt, the end of the season will bring a field-side celebration where every player gets a trophy. National readiness will not be compromised.
My subsequent travels last week brought me home along rural stretches of northern Missouri after the sun had set. Apart from marveling at the abstract art that kamikaze bugs created on my windshield, I passed town after town brightly lit in the near distance.
This tableau vivant felt familiar. Every burg of my youth had ball fields alive on summer nights, and kids in matching shirts did their best as loved ones looked on.
My parents hauled me and others on a traveling team to outposts in the Missouri Bootheel like Risco, Gideon, Marston and East Prairie. With my own children, I would come home from the bleachers at night’s end and feel grit on my skin and in my hair, hot wind blowing dirt to these collection points.
The idea of this continuum cheers me, that communities come together in discomfort for the games of young people.
Let that be American ruggedness. Let that be worthy of a trophy.