In Defense of Average

With a new school year upon us, it is time to celebrate the average, recognizing how crucial mediocrity is, and how we can all benefit from a dose of it.

By Sage Preble

We live in a world that demands greatness from everyone. Spectators are obsolete. The quiet are dying. Moderation is the new deprivation.

It’s old hat to a lot of us; I’ve lived my entire life under unrealistic expectations, from demands for straight A’s to being scorned for not being exceptionally athletic, from the expectation that I should have a body type only a select few can accomplish, to an apparent need for a poreless personality. I know I’m not the only one. This kind of perfectionism isn’t a selective trait anymore, it’s an expectation. And frankly, this expectation is toxic. Life is unlivable if we experience it without the distinction of occasional failures.

I’m here to advocate for the guy who just wants to get by without attempting to break any records. I’m here for the girl who is striving for average marks. I’m here for the people who struggle even for that much. I’m here for the average.

Those people who fall in the middle (or below) of this new norm cannot be valued too highly. In his article The Middle of Things: Advice for Young Writers, Andrew Solomon advocates for the maturity he sees in the middle of his writing career, saying

The middle of things is less exciting than the beginning and less dramatic than the end. Middles can seem humdrum. Say that your current relationship to writing has been like falling in love: we exalt falling in love as the finest of all possible experiences. But the reason people marry and stay married is that the middle, when it can be made to work, far outclasses the beginning.

The philosophy in Solomon’s quote stands, too, for average people. Exceptionality will always outshine the status quo, mediocrity will always fall shy of the status quo, but conventionality will create the status quo. And the status quo exists for a reason; it is a precedent determined by what works and what is most supported. If the status quo didn’t work and wasn’t supported, it would be repurposed into something more familiar and efficient. In other words, a status quo is made in the image of what is most common, and what is most common is, of course, averageness.

In this way, people in the middle are powerful. After all, if you determine what is normal, you also determine who falls under or above that. You make the exceptional exceptional, and the mediocre mediocre. You determine the identity of entire demographics.

Beyond this, though, it’s pertinent for the ego to take the occasional blow. Accepting yourself as “average” is a great way to check ego. David Russel puts it best when he says “that’s the most beautiful thing that I like about boxing: you can take a punch. The biggest thing about taking a punch is your ego reacts and there’s no better spiritual lesson than trying to not pay attention to your ego’s reaction.” Hopefully your ego check won’t be as extreme as a punch, but it’s healthy and normal to react badly to finding out you’re “average” or “below average.” Nothing motivates you toward excellence faster than discovering something “below average” in yourself.

The sooner we accept that right in between these extremes, where the average lie, is where we spend our most stable years, the sooner we can learn to appreciate the relative monotony of averageness.

We shouldn’t have to weary ourselves with constantly striving for the pinnacle of human achievement. Part of life is learning how to navigate the pitch and roll of fortune; just because now you’ve reached a summit in success doesn’t mean that the next moment won’t leave you laid low in defeat. The sooner we accept that right in between these extremes, where the average lie, is where we spend our most stable years, the sooner we can learn to appreciate the relative monotony of averageness (it is important to note, at this point, that monotony in this case doesn’t necessarily equate to mind-numbing white noise, rather, monotony refers to a comfortable, unchanging median).

It is normal to not be convinced by an argument for normalcy such as this (See! Progress already!). And true, maybe it is irresponsible of me to encourage others that middle-of-the-road performances are acceptable in all situations. We don’t watch the Olympics for varsity level athletics, after all. But consider yourself convinced, if of nothing else, that it is okay to be average. Consider the importance of averageness for setting a precedent, the benefits of checking your ego via where you stand relative to “average,” and the deeper appreciation for monotony you can glean from accepting, or even embracing averageness. So take another look at the kind of system that would encourage its people to work themselves ragged to surpass a precedent, and investigate deeper your motivations for surpassing that precedent. If you find yourself a bit lost, feeling a tad used, and a touch brainwashed, you’ve looked deep enough. It’s time to celebrate the average.

Sage Preble is the Editor-in-Chief of the Pine Needle.

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