|In Defense of Mediocrity|
Issue #21 (May 1983)
If it pleases the court, I wish to conduct my own defense against the charges of "Mediocrity" which have been levied upon me.
First, let me admit my guilt. I plead nolo contendere, Your Honor. But, since we have already placed this crime before the jury, may I tell the court the facts surrounding these charges? Perhaps, Your Honor, you might even find that no crime has been committed.
Thank you, Your Honor.
[quoteright]Gentlepersons of the jury, do not close your ears to this defense of "Mediocrity." The courts have previously listened to tales of failure, cowardice and fear. In many of those cases the defendant was exonerated of his crimes. Try to be as forgiving of me.
Presenting The Case
How does one speak about "Mediocrity?" You can readily speak, with pride, of the excellence of your skill upon the guitar. You find humor to share with your friends in the way that you fail each time you try to make the simplest souffle. But do you share your thoughts of "Mediocrity?" Do you volunteer that you were satisfied with that recent endeavor? The one at which you made a decent attempt, that turned out OK for its purpose, but was in no way notable?
It is difficult to accept a discussion of "Mediocrity." It has no place in our society. From our very early formative years we are taught that it is something we must avoid:
"Mary, you must do better in your studies."
"If you don't practice your piano, you will not be part of the recital."
"I want my Little League players to put out 110%, all the time."
It continues as we mature:
"Our school only accepts candidates from the top 15% on the entrance exams."
"You could win the Heisman trophy if you would just practice a little harder."
And of course it stays with us through our adult life:
"You should take your bridge playing more seriously."
"I cannot recommend Rushlic's latest work because he has not progressed beyond the techniques that he has previously used."
We do it on a grander scale also. We have fought bloody wars to achieve that much-coveted superiority. Wars for economic superiority, the super race, or the right God.
How many students have cheated on exams because they had to do better? How many workers have allowed themselves to be promoted out of their comfortable position because it was expected that they should move up in the company? How many status seekers have gone hopelessly in debt because they were trying to show somebody? How many divorces result from one not living up to the expectations of their spouse?
Why such pressure? Why must we be constantly pushed to our outer limits?
Worst of all, how many people have never tried because they were afraid they wouldn't be good enough?
Why are we so disdainful of "Mediocrity?" We should accept it, discuss it, perhaps even endorse it. Why not? Isn't this the enlightened age when we have learned to accept ourselves and others for what we are?
The wisdom for this argument can be presented with some simple, unsupported statistics. Selecting my self-serving numbers from the air, I would say that 80% of all people are mediocre in the all-encompassing spirit of the word. Of the remaining 20%, I would guess that 90% of the things they do are not worthy of note. Perhaps I am being overly generous in allowing that the remaining 2% of human endeavor is above the plane of mediocrity.
The defense will rest its case and allow the prosecution to prepare its closing arguments. In the meantime, let me digress from theoretical abstractions on the subject of "Mediocrity." Let me flesh it out. Let me inject some personality.
I have no time for excellence! Excellence takes too much time. It requires single-mindedness of purpose. Such restrictive application of effort is not in my lifestyle. My ego does not require me to be the best at anything. Unstoppable desire does not course through my veins.
I want to smell the roses. (Not develop a new hybrid rose).
I want to live.
I want to sing. (But not better than Pavarotti).
I want to draw.
I want to paint.
I want to play baseball. (I'll never be a pro).
I want to build a desk.
I want to share in the development of my children. (Don't nominate me for Father-of-the-Year).
I want to love.
I want to dance.
I want to repair my old classic car.
I want to cook. (No, not haute cuisine).
I want to run, play tennis, bowl, throw darts, and shoot pool.
I want to listen to my records, watch T.V., and read.
I want to write!
Clamor in the Courtroom
"You want to write?" the judge questions.
"Yes, Your Honor, I want to write."
"You can't write unless you are willing to give it your all. You must read all the great authors, study their style and learn from them. You must reach out to people and make yourself receptive to the whole of their being. You must analyze each word that you write to be sure that it is the best possible word. And above all, you must train yourself to write with the diligence of a monk, allowing no breaks or diversions until you have produced 1,000 words."
"Your Honor, may I have the transcript of the previous testimony read for the jury?"
"The jury finds that it is not necessary to preface the word 'Mediocrity' by a negative modifier such as 'hopeless.' It further finds, from the testimony, that in 'Mediocrity' there may be hope."
"We urge you, Your Honor, to consider this when passing down sentence on the defendant although he has already admitted his guilt."
Carl climbed the corporate ladder as a mild mannered Accountant until he reached the CFO rung. Then he switched gears and worked as a Corporate Financial Consultant, employment company owner, Victorian house restorer and business speaker/writer for staffing companies. He recently moved to the Napa Wine Country and owns Turnkey Realty of Napa. He stills enjoys building and working with his hands more than cerebral pursuits.