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Competition At Its Finest: With A Side Of Propriety And Decorum

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As the school year gets off to a start -- I thought I'd share something that brought great joy (and a few tears, cue the tissues!) in our home over the weekend. In the shadow of the Olympics a little baking competition in Great Britain came to a conclusion. In the midst of societal chaos and hurtful banter, dignity and respect lived on the airwaves of public reality-television in an unlikely venue -- a kitchen in a tent.

The Great British Baking Show offers an opportunity for amateur bakers to test their skills. Though many of the recipes and "bakes", as they're termed, land a little outside of our tastes here in the Texas (loads of fruit in our cakes isn't quite our cup of tea - as in iced & sweet), a lot of it had our mouths watering and our oven pre-heating. Case in point, my 16-year-old daughter baked us some showstopper soufflés on Saturday afternoon, inspired by GBBS' chocolate week.

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The pinnacle of yumminess!

But more than that -- the show itself (like our sorely missed Downton Abbey) offers a respite, of sorts, from societal/cultural intensity that so often loses sight of people it claims to serve or promote or protect.

But, before sitting down with my girls to savor the show's finale, I happened upon a Charlie Rose interview with David Brooks (syndicated columnist and author -- his latest best-seller, The Road to Character is just out in paper-back.) Maybe its' due in part to this interview that the special nature of the Baking Show had even more of an impact and sweetness on us.

Here's what Mr. Brooks had to say about societal discord:

Charlie Rose: What have you figured out?

David Brooks: There's a lot of dislocation. There's a lot of loss of dignity... everything is indivisible. There's obviously a lot of economic loss, but it's indivisible from a loss of pride. It used to be very possible to say, "You know, I may not be the richest guy on earth, I may not be the most famous guy on earth, but people can count on me. I have dignity. I do my job. I'm a certain person in this community who is upstanding."

Charlie Rose: ... I'm a good father...

David Brooks: A lot of people have lost that dignity code... and that becomes a crisis of status and self worth. And then there's a sense that everyone is giving me the shaft. My employer gave me the shaft. I was in a job training program and they gave me the shaft. There's just no trust, no trust.

Charlie Rose: Everything I've depended upon has let me down.

David Brooks: And one of the things, to a larger degree than I anticipated, a lot of it is the reality t.v. consumer culture that's undermined the ethos. The ethos of working class dignity was almost an ethos that was anti-capitalist -- because you didn't have to be the richest and have the most -- it was about a code of responsibility...

Charlie Rose then follows up with the question -- so, what's the answer. Watch the interview to hear more -- it's worth thinking about because it takes us back to (which probably so much of what we do in life leads to) our identity and self-worth.

With those thoughts swirling in my mind, I plopped down on the couch next to my daughter who had cued up and started The Great British Baking Show -- Finale. We were ready and happy to sink into all of its loveliness.

The Great British Baking Show on PBS is wonderful for so many reasons: the propriety/decorum, the humor, the fun competition that celebrates each other rather than one over another, the beauty, the music.

Today's culture could take a few cues.

In announcing and celebrating the winner we get to see -- not excuses or frustration or a chorus of not-fair's or it-should've-been-me's or ... (fill in the blank). No. Instead we see:

  • humility
  • personal satisfaction with a job well done, from the winner & the losers
  • genuine relationship
  • genuine care
  • happiness
  • love
  • renewed self-worth
  • inspiration
  • courtesy
  • family
  • (and again) fun competition that celebrates each other rather than one over another

Who would have thought -- a reality t.v. show that promotes the beautiful things in life?! The beautiful things aren't gone, they're hiding right in front of us. They exist in relationship with people, not in life against people. They exist in dignity, doing our best whether it's THE best or not, in personal responsibility, in thinking about and putting others' needs ahead of our own. What looks to have gone missing is still there. We just need to remember to bring them back into focus.

And we can. We have lots of avenues to practice, not only for ourselves, but with our kids.

So as school drop-offs begin, as end-of-summer draws nears, as we start the march toward a New Year (it will be here before we know it), maybe some mindfulness is in order. We can bring back the dignity-code in classrooms, on athletic fields, in the lunchroom, in our own carpools. And maybe opt into the ethos to which Mr. Brooks referred -- the idea of living a life of gradually working your way through and being a respectable member of society - along the way. Simple reminders that the pursuit of status at the expense of others (and ourselves) isn't worth it.

Thanks for walking the road with me.

- Kay

To get a taste of the GBBS-ways, my techno-savvy kids grabbed this clip. For the Season 3 Finale (full episode) click here