Sunday, March 29, 2009


Circumstances have caused me to reflect upon the American High School experience - not the academic experience, the other one, the gauntlet.  Bright young kids enter as freshmen armed with loads of natural talent, skill, and ability.  Most, with the added benefit of some character, morals, and values.  The next few years aren't, primarily, a test of the kid's academic ability, they're a test of the kid's decision-making skills.  It's a battery of tests administered by their peers and it's deeply saddening to watch one with such potential, perform so poorly.

For added complexity, the difficulty of these tests isn't constant or even linear, they grow vastly more complex and challenging with each and every bad decision.   In Big O notation, they'd be much closer to O(n2) than O(1).  Unfortunately, the consequences of failing this test aren't disappointing letter grades, they tend to be much worse, as in...

... death... as one enters their freshman class, they should look around, more than likely one or more of the young people they see will be dead, disfigured, or disabled over the next few years from their bad decisions.

... parents... as one enters their freshman class, they should recognize that many of the people they stand with will become parents in the next few years as a result of their decisions.

... jail... some, will be in jail or will be making decisions that will ultimately lead them there.  Yes, even that cool football player with everything going for him, he's cool, but he sucks at making decisions.

... drug addicts... many will decide to go down a path of being addicted to drugs.   It'll start out innocently, with exploration, but they'll inevitably decide to squander away most of their God-given talent.

... consequence by association... some will make all these decisions well, but still end up dead or in jail, because they decided to associate with other people who suck at decision-making - sometimes the test is taken as a team.

... and perhaps the most frequent consequence is the failure to reach their potential.  This is a much more benign consequence, but equally disheartening.  They may start out with high aspirations and easily the skill to match only, eventually, to be satisfied by mediocrity.

There's a compounding effect to these consequences too.  The first bad decision won't likely find them in jail, rather, it might start them on a path where being in jail is more likely to occur, for example.

It's this compounding effect that makes it so difficult for those around them.  We see, as if in slow motion, the snowballing effect of bad decisions.  It's sad.  It's disappointing.  It's maddening to watch.  Like watching a middle-aged man riding through his mid-life crisis in his new sports car, the poor decision-makers are easy to spot from the outside.  Perhaps a dramatic change in style.  Maybe it's a more slow process of ostracizing those around them until they're left, isolated, with like-minded peers who also suck at decision-making.

We watch kids enter the gauntlet teasing ourselves into believing that there's a direct correlation with natural skill, academic prowess, values and long term success.  We might even allow ourselves some excitement in pondering how successful a particularly gifted young person might be.  The truth is, success most often stems not from raw talent but rather from good confident decision-making and hard work.

I love you and pray each day that God will provide you with decision-making skills equal to your natural talent.

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