Monday, December 26, 2011

internet alchemy : The Family Award Wall

In decorating our new home, we decided to use a large blank wall as a gallery space for our collection of award scrolls.  The twelve scrolls display the recognized achievements of my mom, husband and myself and do a pretty good job of telling the story of our involvement in the SCA on an individual level.  In our several years of recreation, in various capacities, we've each invested ourselves in a few different activities and have been lucky enough to be recognized for our efforts.  Do these awards show the whole story of our SCA careers?  Not really- there are several gaps and many things unaccounted for- but if you wanted the brief 411 on what we've each been up to, our award wall is a good place to start.

The SCA's award "program" is, for all intents and purposes, an insurance policy for the organization.  By rewarding its members for their efforts, the membership becomes invested in their "careers" in the SCA.  There are those people that manipulate the award system (we call it "looking for the next cookie"), and those that could care less (people who are in the group for purely social reasons) but on the whole, receiving awards throughout your years of involvement gives you that same warm fuzzy feeling you got in grade school when you were given a gold star for the day.

There are extremely valuable lessons to teach when you broach the subject of awards with your children.  Most kingdoms have at least a handful of awards set aside specifically for youth, and you can certainly discuss them and their meanings with your children when you feel the time is appropriate, but there are other lessons here that are so much more important.

The two most valuable lessons are that your family involvement should breed growth and encouragement among yourselves, and that you must be willing to be disappointed when the efforts you've put forth are not rewarded- exactly as the world works in "real life".

Looking at our award wall, it strikes me that, in many ways, we've worked together as a unit to create it.  Without our constant encouragement and constructive criticism of each other, many of these awards simply would not exist.  When you or your spouse or child or any member of your family is called up in court, it's a good feeling to know that you've done what you could to allow that to happen.  And I'm not just talking about putting a family member into your kingdom's award recommendation system.  When your child asks your opinion about their performance in a recreation task (such as their boffer fighting skills or their A&S involvement) your encouraging words and honesty will bring them one step closer to recognition down the road.

The flip side of this coin, however, is that not all efforts are rewarded, exactly as it is for the mundane world.  Sometimes you can put forth all your effort (honestly and for your own personal happiness) and never be given an award for it.  The lesson children can glean from this fact is that rewards (pretty award scrolls and fancy titles) should not be thought of as earned achievements, but rather deserved surprises.  I say "deserved" because it's easy to feel that you are not worthy of an award you've received, which is a self-depriciating attitude that's unhealthy.  You receive an award because someone thought you deserved it- and by believing that you don't, you belittle that person's values and standards, even if you don't know who they are.

Cultivating an award wall in your family home isn't about working towards the rewards.  It's about recognizing the impact your family makes on your local group and your interests as a family unit.  It's about what makes each of your family members maintain their interest in medieval recreation, and what makes each of you unique.  By noticing what's missing - the gaps and the things unaccountable for- you provide an opportunity to learn humility and to evaluate why you might have taken up certain things.  Do you do it to make yourself happy or simply for the recognition it would bring?  If it's the later, I suggest exploring what the absence of that activity does to your recreation happiness quotient.  If it's the former, then you should continue doing it as long as it makes you happy to do so- this is a hobby after all.

Begin talking about the pros and cons of the award program with your children as soon as they are able to understand the concept of doing things for personal gratification and can grasp the negative concept that receiving an award isn't a sure bet, regardless of how hard you work at it.  You can also speak with them about how "hoarding" awards for the ranks and recognition they convey is selfish and destructive to the entire system (but resist the urge to cite specific examples by name!)  In the long run, when your child (or spouse, or whoever) is called up in court for the first time, you want to know that, though you encouraged them along that path, hearing their name that day came as a complete surprise to you both.