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Be average. That’s where the party is

Sep 23, 2012 Success, Sunday Nation

There is a persistent drone in the air of human endeavour, and it goes something like this.

Don’t try too hard; it’s not worth it. Don’t try to achieve too much; you’ll fail and it will hurt. Don’t stand out from the crowd; the crowd will shun you and you will be lonely. Be average. There’s nothing wrong with being average; most people are.

The drone continues thus: Surrender to the seductive embrace of normality. Don’t push yourself too far; you’ll fall over the edge. Be normal. Regress to the mean. That’s where most people are, and you’ll never be lonely there. We’re all dancing in the middle of the dance floor; don’t stray to the edges. And whatever you do, don’t try to change the music.

Colour within the lines. Stay in the designated areas. Don’t try to climb out of the box. It’s a nice box. You’ll be safe in there.

Let others decide. They know best. The Big People know how to run things for the Little People. Leaders know what’s best for their followers. Businesses know what’s best for their customers. Priests know what’s best for their flock. Relax. Pay your money and cast your vote. They’ll look after you. Don’t complain. It’s all good.

It goes further, this drone. Don’t ask too many questions, but also don’t let others ask them. There are always pesky gadflies in every herd. The ones who think they’re cleverer than the rest; the ones who won’t do as they’re told. The ones who criticize, who disrupt the peace, who bring negativity to everything. These people are dangerous. They must be shouted down. They must be abused and vilified. They must be silenced, by whatever means.

Have you succumbed to the entreaties of this drone? Most people have. Most surrender early on in life. They let others decide for them. They stay in the zone of comfort and familiarity. They strive for banality and mediocrity. And they attack anyone who tries to upset the status quo.

By all means, be ‘normal’ if it makes you happy. But never, ever, forget that progress in human society comes from the dissatisfied spirit. Those who don’t settle, who don’t accept that things can’t be any other way? THOSE are the people who bring about positive change. For all.

Gandhi and Mandela. Jobs and Bezos. King and Yew. Einstein and Curie. Those are the people who come up to a situation, find it unacceptable, and shake it up forever. For everyone’s benefit. These are not loonies or cynics; they are restless souls who want to leave this place better than they found it.

Of course, there are other outliers out there: those who want change for their own benefit, not for the collective. If these ones get their way, they achieve mass bloodshed and massive plunder. You have to know your crazies before you follow them.

But let fear not be a reason to celebrate mediocrity and revel in sameness. Let us celebrate our mavericks and our iconoclasts, our artists and our activists. They have the courage to do something the crowd doesn’t: to be absorbed in making something better; to be different; to be lonely, to be misunderstood. Not many people can withstand those agonies. Most give up.

Those who persist change the face of literature, science, business, art and all things that make human life better. They take the risks others won’t; they protest on your behalf; and every once in a little while, they make the breakthroughs. When they do, the rest of the world invariably follows, now accepting their outputs as common wisdom.

Just remember, it wasn’t common when it was first thought of. Be like everyone else, by all means. But let the different ones do their thing. It might just change your world for the better.

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