Cycling past a beautifully landscaped garden in Modesto, I was impressed when I saw a sign declaring it had won a gardening award. Later, when I next saw the owner, I gave a thumbs-up in appreciation of the hard work that must have been put into this garden -- particularly given the struggles I have with my own yard.
I remained impressed until I saw the yard being groomed by a professional landscaper. Suddenly, the credit I had given the homeowners evaporated. They were being recognized for somebody else's effort. Big whoop!
It's the same when parents do their kids' school projects and homework to ensure they get an A, or when people claim credit for another's work. It's a sham and reinforces two prevailing philosophies: a) It's OK to cheat and fib, and, b) Why do the work if you can foist it off on somebody else?
Many moons ago, when I was growing up, the concept of being rewarded for hard work was established. We didn't just get an allowance; we earned it by doing chores, including (gasp!) cleaning up our rooms, washing dishes and doing yard work. All for 25 cents a week. If you wanted something badly enough, you saved up to buy it -- and getting it became all the sweeter because of the effort you had invested.
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In school there was no such thing as a curve to improve grades and mollify irate parents who were convinced their child was being graded unfairly. If you didn't know your stuff, you got an F. And if you flunked enough tests, you didn't advance -- you stayed back until you demonstrated proficiency in the necessary subjects. By the time you graduated, you actually knew how to read, write and do arithmetic -- something that, by many reports, is sorely lacking in California.
Today taking credit -- not responsibility -- is the norm. I see it in the stores as people slap down a credit card to buy things they really can't afford until they're drowning in debt. I see it in the resurgence of bankruptcies as people try to walk away from over-indulgence -- though it's not as easy as it used to be. I see it in homeowners abandoning properties in our neighborhoods because they misrepresented their ability to pay for what they bought. And the list goes on.
Awards won should be directly proportionate to effort involved. A yard receiving recognition for landscaping done by another should state who really did it. An A+ on a mission project should be for the work the student actually put in. A child should graduate because they have earned the right.
Dissolving the correlation between hard work and rewards has firmly established an entitlement mind-set now rampant in America; it promotes the concept that mediocrity equals success.
Maybe my garden won't win any awards, but my roses smell sweeter because of the hard work I put into them.
Newcorn is a community columnist. E-mail her at email@example.com.