Mediocrity Is a Habit That Needs No Encouragement

February 10th, 2018

I came across a rather good quote today:

Mediocrity always attacks excellence.

I also read some comments on social media on the topic of mediocrity. The word derives from Latin and then French for “the middle.” Which, in a way, doesn’t sound so bad – just a little dull, perhaps, like ” middle of the road” music.

However, the original meaning of the word was to do with mountains. Yes, mountains. You get halfway to the summit, and no further, never really achieving your goal. If you can, imagine climbing halfway up Blue Mountain Peak – and stopping, right there. Perhaps you are too tired, or unfit. You may have twisted your ankle on the rough track. Nevertheless, as you make your way back down (as you inevitably have to) you may feel a sense of disappointment  in yourself. I could have done better, you say; or I did my best, but it was not good enough!

Mediocrity is a trap; it is something hard to break free from, if you are striving for that excellence. It is insidious, creeping into your life and holding you there, so that you become comfortable with it after a while. It perpetuates itself, also. In my view, we are far too comfortable with mediocrity in our lives and society, in Jamaica – so cosy with it, we can’t even recognise it any more.

There are many examples of mediocrity, wherever you look. In Jamaica, it might be a job half-done, or done poorly. A road that is dug up and not properly filled (or the hole’s contents dumped on the sidewalk and never collected).

One of the areas in which we often express the most disappointment is in leadership – whether political or otherwise. When someone in any kind of leadership position makes a “decision” that is not really a decision, but an easy way out – I groan loudly.

Mediocrity often leads to corruption. How? Because in mediocrity there are many, many grey areas that can be exploited. If you have laws (such as the motorbike helmet law, for example) that are not enforced, then it’s “easy come, easy go.” We were annoyed recently when two policemen standing on the sidewalk watched two unhelmeted motorcyclists drive by, slowly enough for them to stop them. We pointed this out to the policemen as we sat in the traffic jam. They scoffed at us. Mediocrity is sometimes simply not doing your job; thinking it is cool to not do your job properly; and dismissing those who would point it out to you – or dare to “criticise.”

I would even go so far as to say that the oft-used expression “Jamaica, no problem” is an exercise in mediocrity. Yes, there are problems! We cannot wave them away. Christians and others would say that prayer works in solving problems. Whatever our solution, we have to confront issues, head on. Our ever-present crime problem is an obvious case in point. We cannot just opt for “the quiet life.”

One area of our economy that is sadly riddled with mediocrity is the public sector. I will give you another illustration: A well-crafted television report the other evening focused on the disgusting situation on Hellshire Beach, with almost non-existent sanitation (even human waste lying in the open near an elderly woman’s house). The reporter went to talk to a public official about the situation. Leaning back in his twirling office chair, the man observed that sanitation on the beach was not a problem. Not even a “We’ll look into it and get back to you when we have studied it further.” I suspect the reporter had just interrupted his thoughts about menu options for his lunch.

So, let’s just deny that there’s any such problem. We don’t want to be negative, and we don’t want to rock the boat, either. Leave it alone.

Well, you might ask: What is the opposite of mediocrity? It’s not necessarily “excellence” (an overused word that means different things to different people). I think fighting the mediocrity “bug” requires more than a simple vaccine, and it’s done. This struggle against the mediocre involves commitment, persistence, determination – qualities that people don’t always appreciate. If you want to do a good job at whatever you are doing, it’s not enough to shine just once. Consistency is absolutely key, in everything you do. If that equals your idea of excellence, then fine!

And on a sporting note, Usain Bolt, Alia Atkinson and others have certainly cut mediocrity out of their lives. We love them for it. Also on a sporting note, I have to concede that Arsenal Football Club – the team I support – were nothing less than mediocre today, losing to our arch rivals. Perhaps more than anything else, avoiding mediocrity means making the effort, pulling yourself up – and taking action.

Let us not encourage mediocrity. Hold people to account. Let us not applaud mediocrity. Keep our applause for those who are striving.


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2 Responses to “Mediocrity Is a Habit That Needs No Encouragement”

  1. Ise says:

    Now if we all put mediocracy behind us and run as fast as Bolt…where would be the exceptionality? Who would watch that race?

    There is no possibility of all being exceptional. A hospital cannot be run by all brilliant surgeons.

    The vast majority of us will remain mediocre. A few will be substandard and another few will be exceptional and there is nothing wrong with that.

    We who are not great singers have the joy of listening to others who are.

    The Nordic countries have a societal value called “lagom”

    BBC Aug 23, 2017 – “In a world of contrasts and contradictory advice, lagom hits the middle – allowing people to enjoy themselves, but stay healthy and content at the same time.”

    The Local: Lagom, as far as I understand having had it well explained to me means nothing more than ‘not too good, not too bad, just right’.

    There is no point in telling people that what is, for the majority, unachievable is achievable and that failing to do so is due to their own weaknesses.

  2. EmmaLewis says:

    I am not sure I understand your logic. One can work towards doing one’s best at all times. That doesn’t mean it is “unachievable,” surely. I do not agree that almost all of us will “remain mediocre.” Mediocre means not making an effort, to me. We can find out what we are good at and work towards that. Or are you saying all the other runners in the race against Bolt were mediocre? I hardly think so.

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