Linda Downing

Mediocrity can poison a life

I detest mediocrity. When teaching or writing, I like feedback but prefer silence to hearing "that was nice," delivered in a dead-pan voice. As an old-time preacher said, "I want to make 'em mad or glad." Recently, popular journalist John Stossel asked on a Fox News' show: "Why should I be upset about the government monitoring my phone calls or other communications?" To Stossel's amusement, the main thing upsetting guests was his not getting excited about this issue. That was so unlike him that it became the focus rather than the purported topic. Are we part of a mass move toward mediocrity? This banality is disguised by a society obsessed with pursuing pleasure and enraged over personal issues. Loudness and rudeness have replaced logic and dignity. Cloudy thinking is part of mediocrity's fallout. Let's mention someone most of us have heard of - Jesus. He claimed to be God. He is or he isn't. There is no in-between. His words shake run-of-the-mill thinking: "So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:16).
Being metaphorically spat out of the mouth of a man who lived some 2,000 years ago does not matter much unless you believe he is God. That changes everything. A cause or a god must be alive to forestall a humdrum daily life and inspire uncommon loyalty. "I'm just a regular old lady," said Karen Klein, the bullied bus monitor who so touched hearts a year ago that 32,000 people pledged $703,873 to send her on vacation. Klein set aside some money so she could retire but kept her basic lifestyle, used $100,000 to start an anti-bullying foundation, and helped family members and friends. Klein shows us you can be an outwardly common person with an inwardly uncommon, non-mediocre character. Not believing that could be a key to the rise in military suicide rates. A June Los Angeles Times' piece included Nate Evans, age 28, a medic in the Navy Reserve, who committed suicide. What his wife said offers insight: "He wanted in the trenches" and never got there. Not believing the ordinary can be extraordinary could be a key to the rise in aging baby boomers' suicide rates. A June Washington Post' article mentioned an "illusion of choice" that has led to the disappointment of not leading "glorious lives." Everydayness does not equal nothingness. We need something or someone that sparks joy and sees adventure in just being. If there is an "underlying vulnerability," as researchers believe, a predisposition to suicide, it is our unrealistic expectations of what life is. Life is an assignment to be in the trenches. Life is glorious. Even atheists are admitting they need a way to believe that. Pew Research Center statistics reveal that about 12 percent of America's atheists admit they pray, even if in desperation to a god they invent themselves. Cloudy thinking and a sense of worthlessness are mediocrity's fallout. Feeling lukewarm about everything is a merciful warning to heed what Eleanor Roosevelt put into words: "One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life." Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side. Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at