A prisoner’s affliction
You might contest this by speaking of war-torn Syrians or the muddle of mental health, but Gen Y and Gen Z are sufferers of the worst kind of affliction; the affliction of mediocrity. What makes this affliction so bad is its non-threatening nature. And I beg your pardon, we are not sufferers of this affliction, we are its prisoners. But what has made us prisoners? And why is this such a big issue?
Tales from the West
The West has always had an influence, directly or indirectly, over the entire world. We have adopted many of their cultural idiosyncrasies and even live them out everyday, without consciously realising it. One such Western quirk we’ve embraced is individualism. I am not claiming that the West holds prerogative of it, but they are the ones to have so earnestly sermonised the concept of individualism. Western literature preaches the purpose and value of individual worth; how the world is every individual’s oyster. To permeate the consciousness with a sense of personal worth, they even went a step ahead and materialised it through architecture, giving almost every member of the family a room of their own. Think of the sense of autonomy and powerfulness you feel when you sit in your room, sip coffee or whatever, and ask for nudes. You feel the illusion of having control over your life and that of others.
In the Indian subcontinent too, we have had literature that spoke of princes being born with a divine purpose, be it the Tiger King or the Buddha. For a layman back then, however, to have acquired such works was a rarity, and even if he did find himself with one, the stories held little relevance in his life. These factors prevented popularisation and consequentially, realisation of individualism through architecture. As the communal form of existence in families continued through the generations, the concept of individualism never bloomed. We believed in a person’s societal worth rather than personal worth, in caste values rather than personal value, in purpose according to status in society rather than according to an individual.
A global distress
All of this changed when globalisation happened. After decades of being hungover on colonialism, once again we got a whiff of the West, and couldn’t get enough of it. Since then, we’ve consumed it like opium until the concept of individualism solidified through material means, i.e. architecture. Today, an average suburban household has separate rooms for almost everyone in the family. This is an embodiment of the privileges which, earlier, we only got to see in films and books of the West.
But how does any of this make us prisoners of mediocrity? The feeling of not being good enough stems from the inability to actualise the personal worth or capability that popular discourse and architecture tell us we’re born with. To begin with, the very sense of personal value gives birth to an ill child called mediocrity. Since birth, we have been taught that we are unique, that we have a purpose to fulfil and that there’s a special place for us in the grand scheme of things. While growing up, we started to realise that perhaps we aren’t as special as we once believed. Right then, along comes someone like Aamir Khan, convincing an entire generation to reinstate their belief in uniqueness. Our existence could exude confidence and hope, once again! Don’t get me wrong, I am not against hope or anything that his films have taught us, in fact, I am most grateful for those films. However, along with everything good comes a bad and possibly, even an ugly. Even though, we are yet to see the ugly one, we very much have seen the bad one.
We have come too far, the concept is too distilled in our souls to now have an exorcism. We simply have to accept that we aren’t unique geniuses. Maybe, a moderate, uneventful life will be all that we ever get. Maybe, we will never be anyone’s first choice, but there are great benefits to being an average that must not be discounted. To begin with, if you’re mediocre, most people can relate to you. Sure, a genius is looked up to, but up there he’s all alone. A great example of this is the film Green Book, based on a trip taken to the south of the Mason-Dixon Line by Don Shirley, a famous black classical pianist.
In a remarkable scene, Mahershala Ali who plays Don Shirley says to his valet, Tony Lip, “Yes, I live in a castle, Tony. Alone! And rich people pay me to play piano for them because it makes them feel cultured, but as soon I step off that step, I go back to being just another n**** to them. Because that is their true culture. But I suffer that slight alone because I am not like by my own people ‘cause I am not like them either.” This is a classic example of the kind of isolation a genius feels and it is common people like Tony Lip, the classic mediocre who lives a more fulfilled life, which is not to say that being a genius is bad and you should avoid it all costs (but if you were one you probably wouldn’t be reading this article right now). Taking a bit more from the example of *Green Book, Tony Lip lived a life of equilibrium, where he earned sufficiently, had the love of his friends and family, and was well received by the people around him. That kept him happy. At the end of the day, we cannot deny our most basic urge of socialising and wanting to be loved. Being a genius, more often than not, creates a distance between the admirer and the admired. As a mediocre, it is easier to strike a balance in life and to keep a clear and simple vision of it, something most geniuses struggle with. Leaf through the pages of history, and you’ll see that the most revered personalities also suffered the most through their lifetime. Your name living on, hundreds of years after your death, might sound like a golden prospect but what is the point, if your life has been nothing but suffering and despair? Look at it from a different angle, as a genius, you could have been the next Hitler. Hitler was an extremist with strong beliefs and it doesn’t matter if we agree to it or not, he was a genius; a genius too caught up in his own ideas.
The complaisant man
In conclusion, it is not easy to be a genius, but it also isn’t easy to be mediocre. A genius progresses in life and eventually finds meaninglessness. We, on the other hand, are mostly stagnant, and have to generate and believe in meanings to live by. We need to be ignorant, sometimes knowingly, to our conditions because being aware is not of much help. The genius, however, gets to be enlightened. He is a Sisyphus, aware of the futility of his actions, yet forced to carry the burden of changing the course of history. Whenever history is reshaped, by a single force, there live people who partake in that change and, in a way, make that change possible. They are the average Joes, the mediocres.
I take no shame in being a mediocre. Unlike a genius, being average requires denying a lot of our basic wants as curious beings and I am willing to trade those curiosities for a more fulfilled life. In the end, we’re all ignorant, what matters is how you exercise your ignorance to live more pleasantly. Just as the world needs the greats, it needs the averages. So, do not fret about not having a personal worth, because you do. Life is not short, as some say, it’s long enough to fill our lives with misery. It is, however, not in the pursuit of excellence but in the pursuit of absolute happiness, which albeit unattainable, that we can find liberation.
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