Monday, 17 January 2011

War on Mediocrity

The British obsession with mediocrity has always held a morbid fascination for me.

Our national heroes are not victors, excelling in their fields of endeavour, although it would be unfair to say that we are completely unappreciative of merit. Our national heroes are the stars of reality TV and the two-bit celebrities who have made their fortunes on the front pages of glossy magazines.

We are society that almost decries excellence - if someone celebrates their particular brilliance in a certain activity, they are labelled arrogant, but if someone achieves modest success, they are lauded as 'giving it a good go.' The reason for this? I think it's because we're afraid of failure. Even to the extent where, in children's competitions, medals are handed out to losers, and the old lie, 'it's the taking part that counts,' is drilled into us at an early age.

Really? It's the taking part that counts? Why do we keep score, then? Why do you get a gold medal for coming first?

Here's the truth: it's not the taking part, it's the winning that counts.

So we're now in a situation where the Government advocates a 'good enough' policy with regard to parenting, so that any sense of competition doesn't worry our pretty little heads. Because everyone knows how simply awful it feels to come last. And no one should come last. But if no one comes last, then no one comes first either. But that doesn't matter, because it's the taking part that counts. And being average is good enough.

Complete and utter bollocks.

In everything I do, from playing cornet and piano, to my work, to writing my book (which I'm finally making some progress on again after a 5-year hiatus), to tapping out this humble blog, to the parenting of my children, even making my cup of tea in the morning, I strive for excellence. I try to do it as well as I possibly can, and to improve on that. Because being worst is bad, but so is being average.

I don't exceed in my endeavours all of the time - I screw up just as much as the next guy. But I try my hardest. Because I'd rather strive for excellence, and fail, then just settle for being average, and always wonder if I could've been something more.

Some people, no doubt, feel intimidated in those rare instances when I accomplish something of significance. Certainly, I am not beyond feeling somewhat inadequate when I see someone else do better than me. Some people hate that, and it drives them to brink of depression. I cannot understand why. When someone can do something better than me, and it's important to me, I work my arse off to see if I can be better than them. Not for the sake of competition, but to prove to myself that I can do it. Many people seem to react differently - instead of striving to improve themselves, they give up, and hide behind the lie that mediocrity is somehow acceptable.

It is perhaps this depressing mentality, the principle that sufficiency suffices, that is to blame for many of the woes of our society. We are terrified of competition, because it involves risk and effort, and so we settle for being average, hiding behind the lie that everyone is special, and no one really needs to accomplish great things, because getting by is enough.