Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Handling disappointment is part of being mature

I watched the Super Bowl, pulling for the Carolina Panthers all the way, just as I had through the regular season, hoping they might go undefeated. I was badly disappointed at the outcome, but it's only a football game.

After the game, Panthers QB Cam Newton took it a lot harder, as he should have. He had a lot more invested than I or any fan did. My disappointment was a tiny flicker compared to the bonfire burning within him. Nevertheless, I find Newton's behavior at the post-game news conference inexcusable. He was sullen. He hid beneath a hooded sweatshirt. He refused to answer questions, and he stalked out. That's just not the way a person with any sense of class or decent manners behaves.

I had been a fan of Newton since his days at Auburn (my daughter-in-law is an Auburn alumna), and I appreciated his child-like exuberance and his obvious joy at playing the game. None of this, however, excuses his ill behavior toward others after the Super Bowl ended.

His response to the inevitable criticism of that behavior only made matters worse. His rationale: "I am who I am. If you don't like it, that's your problem," or words to that effect. Newton is not alone in this attitude. In fact, this attitude might be the predominant one among entire generations of mostly youthful adults. That doesn't make it any less inexcusable.

This attitude had been widely proclaimed on a number of enigmatic Facebook posts a few years ago. They went like this: "I like the way I am. I'm not going to change. If you don't like it, get over it." This attitude has become prevalent, perhaps because public schools placed a high value on "self-esteem," and many parents were so busy giving their young children positive reinforcement that they failed to ever discipline them or punish unacceptable behavior. The "back to nature" movement of the 1970s also included a notion among some that children are born perfect, and society (especially parents) must not change them and ruin their perfectness.

That's a reversal of untold generations of child-rearing efforts that emphasized acclimating the child to the expectations of society — teaching good manners, respect for others, discipline, obedience, sympathy, empathy and all the other attitudes, talents and skills society values.

It's OK to be disappointed at a loss. It's OK to grieve. But it's not OK to be sullen, disrespectful of others and even antagonistic or angry toward people who were not responsible for your disappointment.

Instead of falling back on the "I'm me, and I'm happy this way, so it's your problem if you don't like it" excuse, a role model (which Newton certainly is) could improve society by modeling the kind of attitude and behavior that respects other people and accepts a world where my own selfish interests and concerns are not the most important things.

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