More than a billion people watched the Oscars last night. Me included. Through the hype and hoopla, I found myself thinking about the actual raison d’etre of the ceremony, which is the movie industry acknowledging its highest achievers, those members who achieved masterful performances over the preceding year. Many industries, including my own medical profession, do the same, handing out awards and medals for fine performances, accomplishments and contributions. But none do so with the same glamour as the Oscars, which is hardly surprising since they’re in the very business of entertaining.
This led me to think further about the achievement of excellence, and how it is the chief role of all social and cultural institutions to foster mastery, especially in the young. The institutions of the family, the school, college, sports clubs, church, all have the same job – to teach its members, how to do things that are useful and that contribute to the group and society. This is how we all learn to fit in and find our place in the group, through being taught and by learning to master certain activities, tasks and skills.
And what happens is that as we learn to do things along the way, we meet with the approval of those who teach us, and so we feel good about ourselves. We enjoy positive self-esteem to the degree that we learn to master tasks. All of us are able to master certain things, every single one of us. While competition can be a useful part of the learning at times, it is not integral to it. Not everyone can win an Oscar, and most of us don’t need to. What does matter is that we all have the capacity to learn mastery, and so all have the capacity to learn to fit in and have others value us, and so feel good about ourselves. Most of us do this, usually to the degree that we make the efforts required to master the range of life tasks and skills.
What was on display beyond the glitter and glitz at the Oscars last night was an entertainment institution honoring those of its members who demonstrated especially dazzling displays of mastery in their fields the previous year. From that point of view, there were no real losers, no damaged self-esteem, just an entertaining spectacle of the formidable range of talent alive in the industry today.
What a treat.