Dreadful Mediocrity

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 Mediocrity is such a leveller. It needs no prophet to come to the conclusion that it is extremely difficult to rise above it. Every once in a while, you do have people who would not compromise and continue to follow their hearts and instincts to the very end. The late Steve Jobs is one such shooting star that lit the heavens during his short journey on earth. As he so passionately exhorted in his 2005 Standford University commencement speech, to be creative and be above mediocrity is to never settle and instead always stay foolish and hungry. He was just that and lived by his words, working and continuing to invent some of the coolest products the consumer market was blessed with in recent times, till the very end of his life, even after it became known that his days were numbered by a cancer of the Pancreas. He also had made enough wealth not just for himself or his children but to take care of comfortable living for another 20 generations of Jobs. Yet wealth was not what he considered as achievement. He wanted to work on and self actualise his talent till his last breath.

Alexis Zorba in the classic “Zorba the Greek” by Nikos Kazantzakis, had a definition for this act of creativity. It involves most of all to be true to one’s instinct, and nobody will doubt this is not an easy proposition. Zorba one day exclaimed: “You see, a man needs a little madness in life or else he will never be able to break the rope and be free”. A lot of what Jobs did was madness but his madness was what made him a genius, soaring way above the mediocre world. In 56 years of life, he lived more than what many cannot live in a thousand years. Every now and then, in every profession and vocation such a genius is born. Gandhi, Mandela, Lincoln… to name just a few.

Everybody cannot be a genius. But what is expected of all are at least some flashes of this genius. If not, at least an admiration for those who have this quality and not those who wallow in the ways of mediocrity. This is especially so of those in public offices. They must be able to rise above the mediocre at least to some extent. At this moment, this is hardly so. Nearly all of them, and indeed it is a universal cult in Manipur today, to have no worship for work but only for money. Once upon a time, our political firmament was dominated by men of calibre from respectable professions, in particular the teaching profession, so much so that the term Oja (or teacher) is still the revered address to somebody of more than average political acumen and stature. Today the scenario has totally transformed. Teachers have become lowly employees with little hope for a vocation in politics. At best they are destined to stand in the sidelines as cynical observers of the filth that politics has become today.

The new avatars of political leadership, with very few exceptions, are almost without fail drawn either from ranks of filthy rich contractors or else retired bureaucrats who have filled their kitties with more than they ever could have earned as salaries from their services. The obvious implication is, politics is no longer a vocation of social change, but a lucrative business in which those with money invest, in the expectation that they would earn dividends several times their investments. The truth is, nobody who makes it to the Assembly ever return without the booty that only power can reward. Those who make it to the government get a multiple bonus as well. The even more uneasy truth is, the public by and large also tacitly and overtly endorse this new culture. Anybody with money earns respect and a place in society. No longer are eyebrows raised or questions asked if anybody comes to be richer than their station would normally permit. Instead, they are envied if not worshipped. While there is nothing wrong about loving money, especially if it comes as a reward for hard work and enterprise, but an ambition that obsessively centres around can only ensure the perpetuation of dreadful mediocrity. No innovation, no creativity, no outstanding enterprise, no great achiever… Or as Barak Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech implied, there would never be that “spark of divinity” to illuminate problem solving in such an atmosphere.

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