I WAS quite affected when I learnt that Charles Darwin suffered from sea sickness during his epic voyage. Maybe this dulled my appreciation of his ideas about the evolution of the species, causing me to miss the point that from birth I have been judged. My sex, the colour of my eyes, my weight and height, the colour and curl of my hair, the fairness of my skin, my ability to smile, crawl, walk, and talk; all being judged in comparison with family members and every other person my age or thereabouts. An innocent introduction to the unforgiving law of averages.
Thanks to Darwin and his Beagle adventures, I have lived worrying about being below average, and concerned that I might not be among the fittest who will survive. Why has it taken me so long to wonder, what is average? Why this obligation to achieve above average recognition and satisfaction? My average is mine alone, I have done my best, why disturb this happy situation by competing with another fellow’s average?
Feeling contrary, at last I am thinking there is something to be said for being below average, where hope and room for improvement are plentiful, and the risk of sliding too far below average is not concerning. Here, mistakes are expected, and often lead to happy surprises. Small achievements can be cause for satisfaction. There is freedom to enjoy being who you are, rather than feeling the pressure to be who you are not. Living under the radar, on the fringe, as an outsider, is a carefree vantage to observe and learn from. It is here that questioning and non-conformity breed rebellion and invention, and a very different kind of survival is possible.
If the iris of our eyes and the prints on our fingers illustrate that we are equally unequal, how did the idea of being average take hold? Our nomadic ancestors’ survival depended on their acceptance of individual differences and shared responsibilities. After a time our farming ancestors’ survival depended on land possession and material accumulation. Were these the seeds of discontent, and the origins of a strange desire to be above average?
By now our ancient ancestors are a faded memory, and according to public opinion we live in anxious times. I feel anxious about being anxious, and I am anxious about how anxious future generations might become. We are anxious about being below average, we are anxious about those who are above average, and we seem to be especially anxious about being average.
As information about nearly everything is becoming available to nearly everyone, our anxieties multiply. We have an endless flow of images and reports of the extremes of poverty and prosperity, war and peace, famine and feast, drought and flood, persecution and freedom, and disease and health, all causing feelings of guilt and helplessness or anger and envy, depending on where you sit in the spectrum of being average. We live in a time of growing divide between the below average and the above average.
But, spare a thought for those trapped in the climb to the top of the above average pile. A place is waiting for the single soul who is the “most” above average. What dismay for those who try and fail, what heart ache in coming second, while the lucky winner finds loneliness and paranoia to be the last remaining friends. Having reached the pinnacle of desires, nothing is left, but perhaps emptiness, regret and fear of falling.
Then, there are those whose ambition is to be average, who find themselves trapped by stifling conformity. Decisions are handcuffed by the fear of being ostracised, and the need to be accepted. Comfort is sought in the knowledge of being the same, and anxiety arises from keeping a look out for shifts in acceptable conformity. The trial of being average lasts forever.
Thank goodness for the happy brigade of the below average, the renegades, free spirits, nonconformists, and outsiders. My gratitude goes to those misfits who provide us with innovation, creativity, and the unexpected. They take the risks others are afraid to, they question what we accept, and they remind us that there is more to life than average or above average achievement.
Perhaps Darwin, that great outsider, would be pleased to think that these are the folk that will ensure the evolution of our species. If you venture into the country, the inland, or head off to the coast or an island, you are likely to come across folk who follow in Ned Kelly’s outlaw footsteps. Not to say you will be robbed, but you might find that if you are free spirited, there will be kindred souls to welcome you. I don’t mean to judge, just to look at things from the outside, as life on the inside can lead you to feeling a bit average.
September 11, 2016
Another fabulous, refreshing, clever piece from Tim Shannon. Hooray!!
Linda Cuttriss, Ventnor