Kamila Valieva Deserves Better Goals, a Higher Podium

Last night on national, indeed international TV, we saw the 15-year-old figure skater Kamila Valieva berated by her coach for falling. Not far from her, the eventual silver medalist was in tears for having performed five quadruple jumps and still coming up short, swearing that she would never take the ice again. As I watched these clips today, I could not help thinking we are putting way too much pressure on the fragile spirits of our young people. And for what?

Yes, but it is the Olympics! I know, ask Simone Biles. If you remember, she bowed out of some gymnastic competitions and her coaches had her back. The message? Some things are more important than the Olympics.

Our young people need to know they are more important than the Olympics. Infinitely more important than the medal is the heart behind which it hangs. Even if no medal hangs there. How will they know this if they are taught by word and deed that these competitions are the “be all and end all.” Let’s recall the origin of that expression. Shakespeare coined it as his Macbeth was psyching himself up to kill King Duncan. If he could only do that, well, all his dreams would come true. But such dreams were a lie, merely the temptations of hellish forces, and he, their willing plaything, took the bait and slowly unravels for the rest of the Scottish Play.

Somehow, hellish forces are at work when we give our children the wrong dreams, when we sell them short by giving them the impression that merely earthly goals can ever satisfy a human being, a being made for something, and by Someone, beyond this world.

When we don’t do enough to tell our daughters that physical beauty is not the measure of their worth or to tell our boys that they are more than they can deadlift, we set them up for something worse than failure, we destine them for bewildered, disillusioned unfulfillment.

I live and work among 18 to 21-year-olds. They feel the pressure to succeed. They have felt it their whole lives. As a friend and colleague wrote a few years ago, many of them are “majoring in fear.” We can call them snowflakes and look down on them from a perch of life experience, but we have been complicit in this. As a culture we simultaneously mollycoddle and nag our young people. We drive them toward goals that don’t really last (figure skaters are routinely asked about retirement from the sport at age 17!) at the same time as we give them a pass by lowering academic and behavioral standards

As believers, we ought to know that every child is either an adopted prince or princess of the Royal Family of the Universe, or has been invited to be one. Do we tell them that? Do we treat them like that? Do we help them craft and work toward goals in line with such a lofty podium, indeed a heavenly throne? Because the King of Kings doesn’t care how many times you fall, as long as you fall back into his arms. And outside of his love there is no fulfillment. It is what we were made by and made for.

My dear Kamila Valieva, your skating program is not the program of your life. God loves you and his heart skips a beat every time he sees you. That is where your worth comes from, a love worth far more than gold.

Image: Valieva at the 2019-2020 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final, Wiki-media.

Edward Mulholland

Dr. Edward Mulholland is the Sheridan Chair of Classics at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where he co-directs the program: Great Books: The True, the Good and the Beautiful. Born in the Bronx, New York, he earned his master’s degree in classics from the University of London, England, and received both a licentiate and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. From 1996-1998 he served as the head of the Humanities Department and the dean of the Journalism School at the Centro Universitario Francisco de Vitoria in Madrid, Spain. From 1998-2005, he was Professor of Philosophy at Our Lady of Thornwood Education and Training Center in Thornwood, New York and Professor of Classical Languages at the Center of Humanities in Cheshire, Connecticut. From 2005-2011 he headed the Departments of Catholic Formation and Classical Languages at Pinecrest Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.