This post was originally published at Journey of Peace on May 28, 2012.
I want to write about the side-effects of being a high performance kid. This is the way of it.
My working definition of “high-performance” refers to kids who do everything “right” and do a lot of it. Whatever the kid’s growing up culture defines as a right behavior, that kid does it. For example the kid is well behaved and obedient. Does well in school. Has similarly well behaved friends. Regularly attends church or temple or mosque or other place of faith practice. Mentors a younger person, teaches piano lessons or works at a summer camp. A high performance kid is artistic and creative in some way and perhaps plays an instrument or writes plays or is an actor or tends a garden or runs a bicycle shop out of his garage.
A high performance kid would never dream of swearing, smoking, having unwed sex, stealing, or questioning authority.
High performance kids are generally friendly, smart and considered more mature than their peers. High performance kids have a good reputation, a reputation for being good, and generally people love them.
Do people love them because they’re people or because of their good reputation?
I was a high performance kid. I was home schooled and achieved straight A’s until well into community college. I grew up in the Christian faith tradition and sought to emulate all the Christian values. I went to as many church functions as I could and at one time in high school regularly attended one Bible study or youth group event or “worship night” at least six days out of the week. I was nice to everyone and in pretty good standing with everyone. I did martial arts for a few years and taught myself most of what I know about the piano. When I had opportunity, I participated in church music. I invested most of my spare time and money into working with the youth groups at my church, sat with them during Wednesday night Bible studies and went to summer camps. I got jobs and kept jobs. I wrote songs and blogs and was regarded as a good writer and good speaker.
The high performance trend continued when I emerged from childhood into young adult hood. I earned three college degrees. I got married. I got a job in my field. I have no police record and no STDs. I am in pretty good health.
People say the love me. My mom says she’s proud of me. But honestly, with all the high performing I’ve done, who wouldn’t love me? Who wouldn’t be proud of me?
It’s easy to love someone who does good things all the time. But what about people who don’t do well? The people with the bad grades, no job, the STDs, debts, police records, anger outbursts, and bad breath? Do we have love for these people also?
But how do I know if people love me for me or if people love me for all the behaviors I sustain?
This is the question that bugs me at night. Am I am I a lovable person? Or am I loved for what I do?
My concern is that I’m not the only one with this experience. I see the expectations that are laid upon boys and girls in the church these days. I see that people who do the “right” behaviors are loved and valued and given all the privileges. I see that people who don’t “high perform” generally get outsted or ignored. I’m concerned that quite without meaning to, we are teaching our children to be behaviorists when we loudly applaud them for achieving things, but not giving them any credit for simply being.
So then are we really loving people for who they are?
Or do we love people who can perform?
And what if I stop performing? Will you still love me then?
To a certain extent, if a person is “low performing,” that’s our first impression of them and we let them stay that way. That’s just who they are. If they change and become “better” that’s great, but they can’t get any worse.
But what about people who start out as high performance? That’s our first impression of them and if they change, they’re likely doing “worse.” And I get the distinct impression that that is unacceptable to most people. This is why I’m afraid. I’ve high performed for so long that that is how people know me. And I’m tired and sometimes I get bored and there are days when I get frustrated. But I’m trapped by my good reputation. I can’t break from it without causing a scandal.
I would like to believe that people love me for who I am and will love me no matter what I do. And I am privileged enough to have had a few friends promise that they will do this for me. But culture in general? When I think of becoming “low performance” for my culture in general, I’m utterly terrified!
I propose that the way of peace demands loving a person for the person’s sake. Apart from accomplishments or desirable behaviors. I do not always know how to do this, even for myself. But I believe this is how God loves. I believe this is the type of love to which we must aspire. This may require that we lower some expectations, particularly those we hold for our children.