The award system sometimes brings out the worst in us

So here is another SCA related post with some thoughts on how things work in our society.
And this time my thoughts are related to our awards and what it sometimes does to us.
The whole thought with the awards is to encourage people to continue doing good things – to continue teaching, working so that we all can have fun, to continue fighting or archery or woodcarving – or whatever is your favorite SCA poison.
However – it is also easy to get blinded by it.
And to get to focused on it.

I know – it is easy for me to say that awards aren’t important – having a bunch of awards.
But here comes my question:
If you do things only for the awards – will you continue once you get the award?
Or once you have climbed all the steps and achieved the ultimate goal? When there is no more award to get?

To answer this question I think you need to ask yourself another question.
What if there weren’t any awards?
What would you be doing if there were no scrolls, no special bling and no cookies?
And I know – this is generalizing things a lot. Not all people hunt awards and sometimes one award can be really desired and will really make a whole lot of difference in someones motivation.
But from time to time I think it is healthy for all of us to stop and ask ourselves:
If there were no awards in the SCA – what would I do? Would I hold sewing meetings at my house? Would I volunteer to autocrat or to hold an office? Would I do bone carving or is it really textile arts that is my thing?
This could also be a good question to ask yourself when you are having an SCA low – because we all have those too.
If there wasn’t an award system and if we never got attention for what we were accomplishing, learning, doing or making – what would I find most fun? What is it that makes ME feel good about this hobby and what motivates me?
And the answers might not be the same every time you ask the question.
And our motivations might shift.
It is not always bad to want awards.
But when awards are the only thing that motivates you – I don’t think you will ever be satisfied or feel good about this hobby.



11 thoughts on “The award system sometimes brings out the worst in us

  1. anplica

    Thank you for this! I have had a version of this conversation with a good friend for the last couple months and it helps to keep things in perspective. I would still do the things I do in the SCA (volunteering, heraldry, teaching, fiber arts, etc) if there wasn’t awards, but it is nice to have a “cookie” as a sign of appreciation for hard work. One of my favorite “cookies” was a token of appreciation from a fellow officer – not an award at all. It’s good to remember to recognize people individually as well as with official awards. YOU can make someone’s day with a small token, smile & thank you!

  2. Shared this on FacePlant. If there were no awards in the SCA, it wouldn’t make a difference to me. Lazy bugger that I am, I only do stuff that I like / want to do.

  3. There is a deleterious attitude that “people are only doing it for the cookie” and so they are believed to be insincere no matter what they are doing. This dismisses the their honest effort and detracts from their worthiness. This is cruel and looks to me to be based on little or no evidence. How can anyone know the entirety of what is in another’s heart? And while many folks are not “doing it for the cookie”, if treats are being handed out and people are being publicly recognized and thanked for their efforts, it’s a pathologically shy person who doesn’t quietly want one too. When one works hard and is not recognized, one wonders if the efforts were unworthy or trivial. This is not a frame of mind that leads to more people volunteering for harder jobs.

    In my experience, some people take pleasure in recommending or bestowing awards and some take satisfaction by withholding them. Bestowers rejoice and withholders gloat. In my view, a Laurel received 20 years ago means just about nothing if there hasn’t been the continuation of interest, effort and experimentation leading to projects and teaching. The get a cookie-and-stop sort of people would be fine if they just went away and stopped playing, but some of them use their award as a sort of passport to privilege and as a way of tromping on the opinions and works of the as yet unrecognized. As a highly decorated friend says “Some people receive awards too early and that makes ’em nervous. Some are recognized very late and that makes ’em doubtful and bitter. Some people receive awards right on time–and that is very powerful in building lifelong faith in the system.”

    Thanks for opening this contentious and interesting topic.

  4. Madame du Pont

    I was proud to receive my AoA. I am not desirous of other ones. And would do all that I do just because I love “the Dream’. I do believe some people fall in between the cracks and someone who has been in a while and does things (maybe not special things) but attends and helps out, never receives their AoA. We need to make sure they get their AoA. So look around…see who comes all the time the last few years and helps out and check and see if they have their AoA. I think that is the most important award that says ‘You belong’. The others are nice, but I personally don’t strive for any of them.

  5. Capt. Porthos

    For some of us, this concept is already a reality. Case in point, myself. going on 30 yrs of active playing, have held a few offices and even won a cpl tournies in my younger days. Have never been given a single award aside from a baronial chivalric conduct award. I am still very active, still teach and learn and have fun. The only thing a lack of awards has done, is make me a bit jaded at how the whole awards system works.

  6. Clare Simonds

    Thank you. Good message well written. I’ve shared this forward because we all know people who need to hear these words and you never know what will touch a person.

  7. Turold

    As human beings, we crave recognition. Be it a gorgeously appointed scroll or a simple “thank you”, we all want to feel that our contribution is important.

    There really isn’t much my Crown can give give me that I haven’t already received in my 32 years of participating in the Society. I have all of the “big awards” (and personally speaking – every single recognition is “big”) and don’t expect anything. (Okay, I don’t have a Laurel, but I haven’t ventured into that arena.)
    That being said, I still work. I still give. I run events; work at events; help out at events, etc. I give so that others may enjoy themselves. (And I have fun working as well.) I receive joy in watching others have a good time. (The occasional “thank you” doesn’t hurt, tho…)

  8. dennis/iohannes

    got tired of waiting to be noticed, so I just went out and got a bachelor’s degree in history. that’s more validation than all the awards than SCA can offer me. i’m also graduating with honors and going on for an MA. I go to ICMS in Kalamazoo with my peers, as peers now.

  9. I honestly believe that there should be no awards… There should be just acknowledgements of the reigning royalty, then you have to start all over again when the new royals take over…

    Wanna see some fun? watch the amount of brass hats that scrap and scramble to keep their shiny bits of hair jewelry!! this will really show who has talent and who has brown noses!

    Personally, many of the awards are given to those who know Someone, not WHAT they know.
    Too many times it seems more of a popularity contest (like in high school, being one of the cool kids) than an actual attaboy.

    I have been in the SCA for over 27 years, I have run events, I have taught classes on everything from textile arts to spices, I have sewn garb for everyone from newbies to new friends

    In the 27 years I have been in the SCA, I have been dumped by what I thought were friends the minute they found a duke or duchess to latch onto…I have been jaded for many years against Awards…

    In the 27 years I have been in the SCA, I have known many fabulous fencers who were dumped to the wayside because they lived a mundane life and didn’t make it to every fencing event…is this really a stipulation to get an OGRE? Really? or is it because the ogres are too busy being elitist?

    It makes me laugh when a new form of martial art that was actually part of their time period gets introduced by same fencer gets poo poo’d as being OH SO DANGEROUS and UNSAFE, only to be accepted when one of their own reintroduces it…perfect examples: Schlager, Broad sword, Pike and rubber band pistols….nuff said.

    In the 27 years I have been in the SCA,
    It’s taken a Woman over 5 years as a squire to get recognized by the Chiv…when it takes men only as little as 2 years.

    When a Queen bestows one of her entourage a baroness circlet, it is on the same level to me as a bride handing her maid of honor, a special personal gift or thank you…
    After the acknowledgement, we really shouldn’t be honoring them for the rest of their days with bowing and scraping…would you do this for a bride’s maid of honor? Nooooo. So why shouldn’t there just be a “bride’s maid gift” for the ladies of the entourage, nothing that lasts farther than the queen’s reign?
    Why does being a royal’s friend grant you a baron or baroness circlet when there are those out there that have actually been hard workers for the SCA? Why do you get it for less than 2 weeks or as much as 6 months worth of work, when there are others who have been hard at work for over 5 years???
    You really didn’t do anything for me, so why should I honor you when all you were was a great helping hand for the reigning queen…your friend, not mine. I didn’t even pick her as queen, she was picked by the Stick Jock that won that last year’s tourney, sometimes he has to be reminded that he has to put his pants on just I do…one leg at a time!

    In the 27 years I have been in the SCA, I have seen people walk around with a portfolio showing their work to any brass hat that would listen just begging for an award.

    In the 27 years I have been in the SCA, I have seen groups talk about “hunting” for a royal group to latch onto to get “in” on the “fun”.

    In the 27 years I have been in the SCA, I have been in certain circles, and I hear sometimes why this or that person didn’t get an award…it was because it was they way they ate, or who they were friends with…Really? so Fifth grade!
    Is it really that important to besmirch someone or poo poo another’s talents because you are a brass hat and you don’t like the way they dress or eat or they aren’t one of your cool friends?

    To me, that totally destroyed Awards given. To me, they have no meaning, no actual acknowledgement of talent or knowledge.
    To me, they were totally worthless. I have stopped going to anything that had anything to do with royal progress or court. I just makes me bitter.

    Does this stop me from doing good things for others? NO.
    Does this stop me from sharing the knowledge I have learned? NO!
    Does this stop me from sending many newbies off to play, dressed well and fed well? NO!
    Does this stop me from running or helping out at events? NO!
    Does this stop me from finding joy in historical information or research? NO!!

    It’s because I want to…not because I want Awards…
    In the 27 years I have been in the SCA, this is why I think there should be no AWARDS!!

    All this without useless, meaningless, Awards.

  10. Rhona

    I’ve been in for 16 years, and have received several awards. Would I do all the same things I do if there were no awards? Yes.

    It’s not about the shinies–it’s about being with friends, finding new ways to play, meeting new people, dress up, and hitting people with sticks. It’s history and food and camping and fun and traditions and energy and the best hobby I’ve ever had.

    Are awards nice? Sure! But the highest one and $6 will get you a large coffee at Starbucks. And it isn’t the crown that’s odium the buying.

    I do sometimes look at awards, like peerage or ones for persona development, or teaching, and think about what it would take to earn them. But I look at it more as the highest score on a rubric, what you can do to go farther in your personal game, instead of a goal to be attained. An inspiration, not a destination.

    I have noticed that often the coolest people have lots of awards–not because the awards make them cool, but because when you do something you love for a long time you end up getting recognized for it.

  11. Celemon

    I find the suspicion of people only doing work for awards rather depressing.
    The SCA is, despite the largely middle-class demographic of its members, full of people who get very little recognition in their mundane lives: the teacher who struggles with a heavy workload and constantly new orders from above, the nurse who tries to find enough time to care for patients while dealing with bureaucracy, the police officer who sees enough crap in a week to last the rest of us a lifetime and gets to be held responsible for things done by every jerk who ever joined the force – there are many more. Many people’s mundane lives are full of aggravation and no recognition of the work they do, or whether they do it well.
    As has been said above, recognition is something everyone needs, and not a weird craving to be despised by those of us who don’t want it. Maybe we get this recognition at our jobs, where good performance gets us praise and raises? Maybe we have another hobby that provides us with recognition and approval? If so, we should count ourselves lucky. Let’s stop looking down on the people who need awards to feel validated, and count our blessings if we’re not one of them.

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