Consolation prizes

Fence Sitter
A.R. Samson

Posted on May 06, 2013

IT’S NOT always necessary to be a winner to draw some consolation in an award not given. Being in a list as contender can be enough. Sometimes just being considered for a prize is a way one insists on being introduced -- she was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work. Even if there is no such thing as a nomination process for that particular award.

In singing contests trimming down those who audition into a smaller and smaller number, there is some caché in being in a "short list," say the final 10 from a field that started with over a thousand. These ones go on a concert tour after the last show, maybe even get record contracts.

The short list is a confidence-booster to reward effort. Oscar nominees are promoted and speculated on before the actual awards ceremony itself where the eventual winners are announced. Losers believe that "they almost made it," even mentioning the number of times they were nominated in the past. These finalists after all can feel special too, accorded mention in the winner’s speech as part of a tough field of contenders.

Beauty pageants have mastered the art of handing out consolation prizes. Before coronation night, titles are handed out for talent, friendliness, and photogenic appeal. Sponsors jump into the show with minor prizes (Ms. Ajax Ear Wax Remover) allowing this winner to serve as product mascot and endorser for one year due to her spotless ear canal. On the big night itself, the short list of finalists is designated as a "court of honor." The second placer (or loser by three points) is called the first runner-up. Should the winner be abducted by aliens or is exposed on morality issues for appearing in a porn video with a doctor using a mechanical stethoscope, the first runner-up gamely wears the crown for the remaining week before the next batch of contestants.

What are lifestyle sections, after all, but avenues for life’s runners-up hugging their consolation prizes? The photo gallery in major dailies gives quasi-socialites, also known as social climbers, license to drop names as well as aphorisms -- as John Henry used to tell me: when a cow has an udder, you know it’s a mother.

Still in life, just being in a short list of finalists can offer little consolation.

The student used to a soft grading system that looks out to nurture fragile egos (most courteous) eventually discovers the binary nature of winning and losing in the real world. When applying for a job after graduation, he either gets hired or receives a rejection email saying "we are overwhelmed by your enthusiasm and the will to win. We will keep your application on file for future reference. Please do not follow up or stalk me." This is always followed by a smiley face.

Political contests, like the one almost in the finish line now, will declare only a set number of winners for the available positions. There is little joy in being designated "Ms. Congeniality" after the votes are counted -- she was a good campaigner. Those already discarded as nuisances do not need to deal with a high-profile defeat. They have gotten their dose of humiliation early enough.

A list of candidates, even in the shortened one finally in the printed ballot as approved by the electoral regulators, doesn’t mean much except for the souvenir hoarder who will keep a sample ballot with his name on it as well as records of unwatched debates where he gave his two-minute responses to questions.

We all understand consolation prizes for what they are: a declaration that somebody else got the big prize one was aspiring for. As a Roman Senator of old puts it -- it is a consolation for the wretched to have companions in misery. This is the original and longer version of the succinct dispatcher of bruised egos: "misery loves company."

When we miss some longed-for accomplishment, we end up having to offer the consolation prizes to ourselves. Our coping mechanism allows us to get on with life after even a publicly humiliating defeat. We can move on and rationalize -- I was the one who turned it down. Anyway, every new day brings its own reward if we look hard enough, as we should. Life is still the biggest prize of all… considering the alternative.