Feb 5, 2020

Who "Deserves" an Honor?

It happens every day. Someone gets recognized, honored, if you will, by some entity. Often people who are well-informed gasp with dismay. Really? We're going to point to that person as an example of what's good in our neighborhood, our profession, our nation?
Sadly, recognition can say more about who does the recognizing than what the recipient has accomplished. Some things come down to who you know (I'm aware that should be whom). The doctor, writer, teacher, businessman, or talking head given an award is probably no more talented than a dozen, maybe a hundred others in his or her field. But we like awards, and we like one shining example, not a dozen really good ones.
Malcolm Gladwell attributes it to a human desire to have one top dog to admire in any one arena. That's likely to be a pooch the choosers know well, one who has served their purposes, "done his time," "paid her dues."
Can we really quantify who is the sexiest man alive? Or who wrote the best book of 2019? Or who's the best at political analysis? No, but we pick someone to honor anyway, often by purely superficial means. Reasons tend to be subjective.
"I know her. I don't know those other people."
"He deserves recognition. He did me a favor once."
"She's okay. She always speaks to everyone in the room."
News flash: If the award isn't for being nice, doing favors, or being everyone's pal, then it shouldn't be given.
It's good when we can all agree that an award is deserved, and that certainly happens. But when awards appear for purely selfish reasons on the part of the givers ("Look how great we are!" "Who are we going to honor at this year's banquet?") it's pointless. When an award comes more from the recipient's acquaintance with the panel of selectors than from any real talent or initiative shown, award-giving becomes divisive and petty.
And when a single individual bestows an award just because he can, it's an insult to all of us. At least the sexiest man alive comes from a vote of (some of) the people.

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