A friend on Facebook lamented an item about a passably average singer’s newly released CD garnering a gold record award recently while other singers who are immensely more talented can’t seem to get the same break. His sad point was that mediocrity rules in the Philippines.
Why am I not surprised?
While we know that talent is gifted to an elite few, there is also a mediocrity mindset that bestows royalty on some who are obviously lacking in it.
Sure, all of us are mediocre in a few things that we do and it is understandable. But it is something else when many people adapt mediocrity as the gold standard.
I can think of many instances when I have come face to face with the mindset that perpetuates this. It’s the attitude that settles for pwede na in place of doing work that is outstanding. And it’s amazing how the followers of mediocrity can get enthusiastic about its manifestations.
Mediocrity is brought about by many factors, one of which is good old laziness, where one is content with just almost barely fulfilling the minimum requirements. Why? Because it is the easy, convenient, non-challenging thing to do. It is a self-defeating attitude, alien or oblivious to the pride one feels when one does a job well.
Another factor is that often, people just don’t recognize what is special about real talent. They don’t know any better. And here is where the problem becomes more serious.
Mediocrity is everywhere. Has it ever happened to you that you are watching someone being hyped by media as being just great, and you catch yourself wondering what all the fuss is about?
Watch TV, especially the sitcoms, where the actors “brave” their roles knowing that what they do is far from excellent and is at best, mediocre. Not even canned laughter can save them from being dismal flops.
Read the newspapers, magazines and there is so much shoddy work that amounts to blah reporting and writing. Listen to the radio and the music it dishes out. I know I sound like a ranting old man but I feel that years of mediocrity and underachievement or not trying hard enough to be good, has begun to do us in, in a big way.
I once had a conversation with a movie producer who has been coming out with noteworthy films that have a high level of excellence and artistry and yet manage to be commercial. He pointed out an important factor why Philippine movies have not hit the international scene in a big way compared to movies from other countries. He says it is in the stories we tell and the way we tell them. He complained that too many scripts are derivative of Hollywood movies or are too populated with stock characters instead of real people who the audience can identify with. We hardly ever get out of tried and tested formulas in the stories we tell.
I asked him if it was a question of budget, as many filmmakers seem to suggest. Or was it a question of the censors standing in the way of creativity? He shook his head vehemently and pointed out that Iran manages to come out with quality films praised by critics everywhere despite the strict censorship filmmakers there must go through. And if budget is the main constraint, how come a country like Nepal, which makes less than five movies a year, can come up with international winners?
Again, around here, it’s mediocrity rearing its ho-hum countenance.
We seem to be plagued by what I call a “militant mediocrity.” It is evident not just in the lack of boldness in the way we choose, act and do what we do. It is evident in the way we accept the status quo without resistance. As a people, we suffer from a smallness of dreams and thus we settle for what is, at best, lackluster. Our cities are dirty, our infrastructure are built poorly and with little imagination or aesthetic sense. Our schools continue to dish out education that is far from world-class.
Perhaps it has something to do with our penchant for moderation, which seems to indicate our aversion or fear of anything that may verge on the extreme. Like Goldilocks, we neither like it too hot nor too cold and so we look for the middle ground. Except that the middle ground is determined not by how high we can reach but by how low “low” is at the moment. And the sad thing is, things seem to be at the lowest they have ever been.
“That, however, is mediocrity, though it be called moderation,” wrote the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
Dan Millman in Way of the Peaceful Warrior, put it less moderately. “Moderation? It’s mediocrity, fear and confusion in disguise. It’s the devil’s dilemma. It’s neither doing nor not doing. It’s the wobbling compromise that makes no one happy. Moderation is for the bland, the apologetic, for the fence-sitters of the world afraid to take a stand. It’s for those afraid to laugh or cry, for those afraid to live or die. Moderation…is lukewarm tea, the devil’s own brew.”
Thus, if the surveys are to be believed, we continue to throw our support behind political figures who are hardly competent and without any vision that challenges us to be better than what we are. And it usually means we just end up choosing the one who can do the least damage.
We admire artists who have no commendable body of work that has defined a higher state of the art or has brought their audience to places they have never been. Our media promote the shallow instead of the profound, the fake instead of the real, the glitzy instead of the substantive.
This “militant mediocrity” is easily threatened by superior ideas and often rejects them outright. Because it is highly invested in being average, it mocks anything that wants to raise the bar. Don’t we often dismiss as pilosopo, a snob, or an elitist, anyone who questions or challenges us with new concepts and ideas and new ways of thinking?
“Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them,” wrote Joseph Heller.
Our media, our leaders and societal authority figures must begin to challenge us to aim for something higher. If they keep up this diet of mediocrity, we will become hopelessly mediocre ourselves.
It was Walter Russel who said, “Mediocrity is self-inflicted. Genius is self-bestowed.” Forrest Gump put it in his own inimitable way, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
While we may blame others for where we are, it is incumbent upon us to get ourselves out of the rut we are in and adopt more winning attitudes.
It’s time to shake up this side of the world and rid ourselves of things that do not do us any good. And one way to do this is to believe that we deserve better. But we have to be militant about it. When we do so, we will realize that when we do better, we are happier with what we get.
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