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No, Everyone Doesn't Get a Trophy. But . . .

Is it good enough to just be good or is there only value in being better than someone else?

I like things that are simply good. Comparisons are often necessary, but there are limits to their value. In fact, they sometimes keep us from enjoying things of exceptional quality simply because they are obscured by the towering reputation of something else.

I'm not arguing for lowering standards but rather suggesting we broaden our vision and notice what is of value in what we might often overlook.

Pop culture is obsessed with competitions of all kinds from American Idol, Survivor, the Voice, and the one that I find utterly disgusting, Nathan's Hot Dog eating contest. (Google it, if you think you have the stomach for it.)

Human ingenuity can make a game out of almost anything. When I was younger I may or may not have ever competed to see who could stay under water the longest, spit watermelon seeds the farthest, or belch the loudest - the last "contest" would have been when I was much much younger. The Guinness Book of World Records is an amusing compendium of such silliness.

I understand that somethings really are better than others. Some singers sing better. Some artists paint better. Some engineers design better. But our quest for the best causes us to overlook so much that is truly good simply because something else is considered better.

I have had the good fortune of working with hundreds of amateur musicians in my career. By the standards of our competitive culture, many of them would not be given a very enthusiastic audience even though they were certainly good singers and instrumentalists. How unfortunate.

There are times when being the best is actually settling for something less than good. Things can be better or even best without being good. For example, I am undoubtedly the best trumpet player in my family but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm good. Without intending any offense to anyone in my family, if I settled for comparing myself to them, I might be the best, but I certainly wouldn't be good. Turning the example around, I can think of many musicians who play trumpet better than me and some who might even be considered the best in the world. But it would be unfortunate, at least for me, if I allowed that comparison to diminish my love for playing the trumpet and hang it up, just because I am only good.

I remember attending the annual meeting of the American Choral Directors Association in Los Angeles several years ago. It was my first time to attend and I was fully expecting to hear some great music for those few days. Indeed, I did. There were choirs from all over the world. Male choruses, women's choruses, choirs with both men and women, children's choirs, show choirs, classical groups, and variations on all of them. But I was not quite prepared for the amount of talent from school and community groups from small, out of the way places in rural America. These singers sang with exceptional artistry that gave them a platform to perform with the most notable musicians. I came away with the firm conviction that there is great music and there are accomplished musicians everywhere. The idea that some might not have their voices heard because they didn't "win" a competition is most unfortunate.

I wear a variety of professional hats and I'm going to put on my pastor's hat and "go theological" on this point. Remember what God said as he surveyed creation at its completion? "It is good." Obviously the "it" that is being referred to is not just one thing but an infinite variety of things, some bigger, some more colorful, some more or less dangerous than others, but all were pronounced "good." I would like to advocate for the recovery of that word and allow the variety of goodness in the world to be enjoyed with gratitude and enthusiasm.

The main point of this "sermon?" Enjoy the gifts you have. Pursue your interests with enthusiasm. Develop your talents and skills to the best of your ability. Resist the temptation to validate yourself by comparisons. You'll know when you have done your best and that will always be good.

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