Average gets a bad rap. Well, not so much a bad rap as not enough rap. We seldom hear about him or her.
For instance, you never see Average’s mom post about his achievements on Facebook. “Congratulations to my son Average who achieved something that most kids achieve.” Instead, we see the parents of Average’s friends posting about their kids achieving all the things Average tried to achieve, but fell just a tad short. “Congratulations to my child Superior who achieved something momentous. My kid is wonderful beyond belief and worked so hard. #mykidisintheroomwithme #Imjustanattentionwhore.”
Okay, the hashtags are imagined, put in my head by a hilarious teenager. (I’m withholding her name to protect the snarky.) But the post isn’t imagined. Its equivalent passes through our news feeds on a regular basis.
But Average is just as treasured by his parents as Superior is. And, Average is special in all sorts of ways. He makes us laugh. We can relate to him and love hanging out with him. We like him, because we’ve all been him. (See my post on why perfection is boring.)
Don’t write off Average
When it comes to recording our stories, our tendency to ignore or downplay Average is a handicap. Instead of writing him off, we need to write about Average. We need to tell his (or her) story.
Just like we would (hopefully) never name a kid “Average,” referring to the setting of your past or your ancestors as simply average is a cop out. Unless it’s annotated by a lot of other descriptions, it doesn’t do anyone or any place justice.
That average family with an average income in the average mid-western town probably had some interesting dynamics. Family members had personal biases. Traditions that were far from ordinary. They fought their personal demons. They were individuals. Their lives mattered.
There was recently an article on metro Detroit suburbs and their claims to fame and infamy floating around the Internet. My adopted city was touted as being “unremarkable.” The article, though admittedly fun to read, missed the point. When a city packed with racial, religious, and socioeconomic diversity and 80 + languages spoken in schools manages to get along and not have remarkable struggles or headlines, it’s a remarkably great place to live.
Statistics, my most-hated subject ever, bears out my argument. Average is a mathematical function that describes a group or summarizes group dynamics. It makes no claim on accurately describing an individual.
To say my score on a test was average, might be accurate, but like a lot of things in statistics and accounting, doesn’t actually mean much. It doesn’t say what my potential is, whether that’s a good grade for me, whether I was up all night with a colicky baby before taking the test, or if I misapplied a basic principle on every single question.
That denotation of “average” isn’t telling my story. Instead, it’s focusing on the group and missing the individual’s stories. Which is bad for the memory collector or family historian. You want your readers to look closely at that gawky kid, because when you look closely at him, it’s easy to see he’s pretty spectacular.
Write about Average
We don’t shun Average purposely, or even to make Average’s parents feel jealous. We do it because we’re not sure how comfortable we are with our own averageness.
Because snarky hashtags aside, I believe highlighting the superior isn’t simply about craving attention. It’s about wanting to direct that attention only on certain aspects of ourselves and our past. As Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., and author of The Gifts of Imperfection, so aptly puts, “… we all struggle with shame and the fear of not being enough. And, yes, many of us are afraid to let our true selves be seen and known.”
I’m not suggesting years of therapy to connect with your true self, unless you already want to. However, I do think we have to nudge ourselves into our discomfort zones. Because when we don’t talk about our “true” (read ordinary or imperfect) selves, we miss the chance to connect with everyone else who is also ordinary or who wonders if they are good enough. We miss the chance to celebrate Average and introduce him to the rest of the world.
Instead of brushing by Average, write about Average. Explain how you feel about him or her. Why you love that average person. Why Average is special. Why you never want to see Average again. Why you were never able to appreciate Average as a youth, but have come to appreciate Average later in life.