Acts of personal achievement always trump awards

What do BAFTA (no, not an international trade agreement), the PGA (no, not a professional golf association), the IDA, SAG, AMPAS, Brittania, Gotham, the BFCA and the BTJA have in common?

If you have no idea (I didn’t), then it’s time to get your Wi-Fi on. Here’s some more familiar examples: The Critics’ Choice, The Independent Spirits, The People’s Choice and the Grammys.

Yes, these are all award programs. Spectacles of extravagance, glam and glitter, that celebrate the most wealthy, famous and successful among us. Each is its own highest honor delivered to yet another startlingly beautiful human being scantily wrapped in silk and jewels worth more than you and I will together earn in a year. These are gossip fests of vicarious pleasure meant only to sell the winning media by virtue of its popularity, culminating in March’s ultimate and most-coveted and most-watched award program, the Academy Awards.

It’s as if the Christmas-Hannukah-Kwanzaa mid-winter interruption isn’t enough for our spectacle-needy society. We might lose our way or pay off our debts or simply get back to work if the path through late winter weren’t marked by stepping stones that go from the Country Music Awards to the SuperBowl to the Grammys and then to the Oscars, straight into summer.

Personally, I’m disappointed that the season isn’t capped off by “The Metas,” an award for the best award show. The top-award winners from all prior award shows would be further awarded for “best acceptance speech” with special recognition for “most believable humility,” and “most sincere gratitude to Mom and Dad” and “clumsiest stage ascension.”

I enjoy media as much as the next guy and, yes, I’m guilty of occasionally ogling my favorite actors as they walk the red carpet, as they wait with baited breath, clasping the hands of their mate-of-the-week (now there’s a category for a fascinating award show) waiting to hear whether their colleagues or their people or their guild has recognized their talent above all others. “Me? You want me?” Oh, the heartbreak and the tears; the jubilance and the thrills!

But come on! Down here in the trenches, it doesn’t really matter whether “The Shape of Water” beats “Three Billboards,” whether “Mud-bound” is adequately recognized despite its streaming origins, and whether a subtitled story starring a Chilean transgendered actress (“A Fantastic Woman”) has a chance. These are water-cooler topics at best; conversations to be made the next time you’re at your hairdresser or in an Uber.

Far more deserving of our attention and awards and popular celebration are those seemingly small, but momentous acts that surround us every day. They are seldom announced or publicized, and yet they are far more passionate and powerful than DiCaprio and Day-Lewis and Affleck’s performances put together. They are more genuinely moving and dramatic than Winslett, Blanchett or Streep, and they required none of the staging or direction of a Redford, Zemeckis or Spielberg.

I’ll call these awards the “Quanta” because they recognize a common person’s unexpected quantum-like leap out of him- or herself to become healthier; to help another person or the planet on which we live. The candidates for the Quantum Awards have risen above the pain of their abusive and neglectful childhoods, have escaped the shackles of addiction, or have generally boot-strapped their way out of the mire of me-here-now self-centeredness in which we all live to give back more than they got. These are the astonishing feats that deserve far more than shiny metal statues. They deserve to be made into movies and podcasts so that more people might follow their leads. Quanta winners are models of essential humanity whom we should all emulate.

Here are my nominations for the 2018 Quanta Awards:

Every person of any gender who has ever had the strength of character to step forward and say “me too,” even long before #MeToo existed, even when the media didn’t care, even when the boss said “get over it” and especially when no one really believed. Your truth is real and important and we all need to listen.

Every person who survived conflict and chaos, abuse and neglect as a child, but who has since gone on to become a healthy and loving parent him- or herself. This quantum leap shouldn’t be possible – we tend to practice what out caregivers preached – but it is possible, and it does happen, and it brings tears to me eyes every time I see it.

Every child who has ever had the innate wisdom to find the unconditional, healthy and constant love of a teacher or coach or grandparent or therapist or neighbor when the people who should have been there for them – their parents – were not. (And in best supporting role, I would give a Quantum Award to each of the selfless adults who gladly gives these children the emotional anchors they so desperately need.)

Every separated and divorced parent who refuses to take the bait when they recognize that his or her ex- is being provocative and destructive. Blame only serves selfish adult needs. These Quanta winners side-step the rage to instead take the high road. They remind themselves that their love for their child must always be stronger than their anger at the child’s other parent.

Every parent who trusts his or her own instincts more than the doctor’s placating “It’ll be fine” or the teacher’s well-intended “let’s wait and see,” and instead advocates politely and respectfully but forcefully for more information and more action today. My cynical self would say that if you don’t speak up for your kids, they’ll fall through the cracks. Advocating for your child’s health and education is as necessary as good nutrition and exercise and is Quantum-worthy.

And the winner of today’s Quantum Award is …

The loving father who was startled when his pre-teen son slammed the car door and left without saying goodbye to march into his mother’s home. It was the usual Wednesday afternoon transition. The parents had divorced long ago, but their selfish and destructive war has gone on ever since. Father and son are very close, so the boy’s exit was entirely uncharacteristic, but Dad understood. His anger about his son’s exit subsided quickly and was replaced by profound sadness. He knew, and his wisdom was later proven right. Late that night when the child was finally alone, he texted dad to apologize and explain: “I knew that Mom was watching and I knew that if she saw me hug you and give you a kiss goodbye, she’d be mad. Sorry Dad. I’m trying really hard to love you both.”

Parenting Pointer

Please steal this idea. Create your own Quanta Awards within your home or community or classroom or scout troop. Knowing that rewards increase the likelihood that the rewarded behavior will be copied and repeated, ask yourself (and your co-parent or principal or board of directors) if you’d rather reward strength and speed, spelling accuracy and math fluency, or simple human kindness?

The idea of a Quantum Award may require a change of priorities: Respect and goodness and selflessness before accuracy and acumen and achievement. That sounds radical, but I wholeheartedly suggest that children who feel valued for their goodness are far more likely to grow into healthy and functional adults than children who are rewarded for knowing their times tables and state capitals.

Dr. Benjamin Garber, Ph.D., is a New Hampshire-licensed psychologist and parenting coordinator. He writes and speaks internationally on subjects concerning child and family development. His latest book is “Holding Tight/Letting Go” available from unhookedbooks.com. Learn more about Garber and his child-centered services at HealthyParent.com. Find a collection of Garber’s popular press articles on his blog at bdgarberphd.wordpress.com. Garber welcomes your comments at papaben@healthyparent.com.