Written directly across the top of my studio policy is the line “I want my students to be musically proficient. Bottom line - I have no interest in training them to be mediocre musicians.” I don’t really believe at the time I really realized how unusual this particular idea would be in our current culture. I frequently feel as if I’m a little out of the loop, not always connecting with others, because I, myself, and we as a family tend to view life very differently. This is one current way I find myself at odds with many around me and I’m left scratching my head as to why. Now I realize there is a certain irony here about now typing a blog post on mediocrity. A few weeks ago it was the evils of perfectionism…well it’s counterpart is definitely mediocrity. I believe this means there must be a third part to this “series” called balance. Ha! Definitely the daughter of a preacher…I think in groups of threes and always try to come up with some way to alliterate if possible. I see a distinct departure from the pursuit of excellence among families these days in general. When I was growing up, I was hugely competitive and so it became almost second nature to me to work hard for the things I wanted. Whether that was a piano competition, or a spelling bee, or graduating as the Valedictorian. There was the constant evaluation of the “cost” involved to apply myself in any particular direction - meaning mostly time/effort, and sacrifice. Sacrifice included time to spend with friends, time to myself to read or play, or just downtime. Nowadays, there’s no downtime for most families. Our family tends to find ourselves in this same boat - so there’s no condemnation here. With three very active, sports oriented children - we are on the go. We encourage the practice beyond the time spent at “practice”, and trying to work to develop discipline in the kids to work for the things they want. I’m not so sure that what we have in our culture currently is really helping us. In the studio, kids come in weekly that are not prepared in any way shape or form for a lesson. Now listen, I understand that there are weeks, where there is just not enough time. I totally and completely get it. I’m not speaking of the occasional difficulty or occasional missed effort. I’m talking consistent lack of preparation to demonstrate any mastery of skill in any small part. I do my best to encourage the practice, and the prep necessary but I fear it mostly goes in one ear and out the other because frankly, we (humans in general) don’t really enjoy hard work. Mediocre is easy because we don’t have to work at it - everyone can easily be average.
It’s not unusual at one of my recitals for certain students to be mentioned to me as being “so talented”. This is not a wrong statement by any means, but what I wish more people understood was the fact that these students who are “talented” are the ones who consistently week after week continue to work and practice and aren’t satisfied with an “ok”. They are the ones who feel it deeply when a performance doesn’t go well or when they don’t feel like they have made the progress they could have. They are not satisfied with mediocrity, because they know the value of their persistence and hard work. They are not content to just play or sing the right notes, and rhythms, but they add an extra dimension of musicality by working with dynamics, articulation and facial expression. It takes more work and more time and more sacrifice to be above average - but those who do the things necessary to become excellent know it’s worth it.
We miss out on so much when we are settle for average! We all look the same, sound the same, achieve the same and this is not what we were made for. Deep down I think we all want something more than this! I do believe that Biblical principles back me up on this - I can think of verses where we are told to do things with all our might (Ecc. 9:10), Honor the Lord with the “firstfruits” of our substance (Prov. 3:9) or the parable of the talents found in Luke 12. The Bible tells that we will reap what we sow and if we sow with diligence and work hard (another Scriptural principle from Proverbs) we will reap our efforts. It doesn’t take much review in the old testament books of Genesis and Exodus to see the precision with which God ordered Creation, delivered the Israelites from Egypt, and structured the beginnings of the priesthood. Take Ex 28:2-3 as an example and see that even the clothing that God wanted designed for the priests was very specific - “for glory and for beauty”. God also says to “speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill”. So God gives skill, and we are to develop and use it for the express purpose of bringing God glory. So average and mediocre doesn’t add up to me in this Biblical economy.
What about outside of this Christian line of thought? In life, we look up to those who achieve greatness. Whether they are on the basketball court, the football field, or in business - we have great respect for those who work hard and who are by no means average. This is not always the smartest person in the room. We all know those who are incredibly smart, but who are not successful because they can’t translate those smarts to daily life. Those who work hard, put in great time and effort in order to achieve goals, and to attain skill are the ones we celebrate. Increased skill separates the mediocre from the excellent. This doesn’t mean these folks are perfect..my goodness the great inventors all have long histories of many failures before they achieved any amount of skill. Great sports players throughout history have persevered through failure in order to attain the level of skill that we all admire. Even businessmen who succeed in business many times go through failures, and loss before they acquire the necessary skill to achieve greatness in their business dealings.
This brings me to my latest idea rolling around in my head. I believe this is why a certain Presidential candidate resonates with us. We don’t want someone who is average or mediocre to lead us. What kind of campaign slogan would that be - “we can all be President” “I’m nothing special”? I mean would anyone seriously vote for someone who was all about the average? I don’t think so…I think we all look for our leaders to be someone who we can admire and who achieves greatness. I know the campaign slogan of “make America great again” has rubbed many the wrong way. But I have to admit - I kind of agree! America is a great nation and always will be because there is no where else in the world that can compare with America and her freedoms - but we aren’t what we once were. By the way - that’s not a political endorsement - just an understanding of what he is saying and an agreement that we should want greatness again!
America has become rather average in her foreign policy. Starting to make deals, where we are on the losing end, making prisoner exchanges which creates more vulnerability for those traveling abroad and thanking nations who kidnap and propagandize our military men is really terrible foreign policy. We don’t take a stand for right and wrong, we give away too much information, weapons, cash, etc to those who care nothing for what we value and we get very little in return. We do not value human life - pre-born, disabled or elderly. We have an economy absolutely in the tank - we are saddling our children with extreme amounts of debt and we just continue to allow the ceiling on that debt to be raised. Our education system is a complete mess. Look no further than the recent undercover videos exposing the cronyism of common core and the major publishing houses for textbooks only highlights the disaster of the current system. Our political parties look the same and vote together even if that violates various campaign promises made to be elected. It is quite frankly disgusting and immoral.
So we have a candidate who stands up and says - let’s make America great again - I can understand and I agree! We have allowed mediocrity to slip in and keep us all where we are now…Excelling means rising above what we do now to become better. Mediocrity says hey I’m ok, you’re ok - we can all get the same color ribbons because we all showed up. Even our kids know this is pretty dumb, because they all know who the winner really is. They keep score in their heads, even if we the adults don’t keep score. We know in our minds this isn’t they way we really want things to be, but we don’t know how to change it. So we look to someone who challenges our way of thinking, and reminds us that greatness is not a bad thing - some people are meant for it…not because they were born rich, but because they worked hard for it. I have great respect for those who work hard and achieve much. I know how hard it is to get the grade, get the diploma, get the degree and to keep working on bettering your skills as you get older. I respect others who do the same.
Our culture is so confused. Nationally, the state of Wisconsin is now stating that students in high school can no longer say certain phrases at high school basketball games - “start the bus” or “airball”. These words and phrases, as well as booing are now actionable offenses by administrators. I guess we are just trying to make sure everyone feels good after a game.
Internationally, the Olympic committee has recently ruled that transgender athletes (pre-surgery) should be allowed to compete with women. That’s right we really won’t have women’s sports any longer because women will now compete with men. Our bodies are designed differently, our strengths are different, and now we are expected to compete with that. It’s infuriating - if we want to do that - have men and women all compete against each other - then ban the “category” of “women’s” sports or “mens” sports. But can you even imagine the underhanded dealings that are going to take place with nations that are far less principled than we are. I have no doubt that it will serve their purposes quite well, to have someone compete who is not truly “transgender” just for the sole purpose of collecting a win. We have seen all kinds of manipulations in the past - nothing at all will surprise me here.
Again nationally, and perhaps most dangerously, we have a complete lack of clear teaching on the constitution, the branches of government, etc and it’s created a terrifying combination of fresh new voters with no depth of knowledge of past history or present legislation in our school systems. A recent non scientific poll stated that approximately 10% of those polled in the millennial age group thought Judge Judy was a supreme court justice. If this is even remotely true it is quite a scary thought. The problem is these same young adults don’t and won’t realize the separation of powers that is inherent in the way our governmental institutions were set up. They are not being taught that executive actions are a run around a Congress that is setup to be a balance to an executive branch that runs pell mell toward whatever they please. They don’t see the dangers that allowing this kind of behavior to continue because they don’t know their history and history has taught us that absolute power (anything that can’t be balanced by another external force) corrupts absolutely. This is how we end up with a dictator instead of a president. Without an understanding of history, they will have no idea that the idea of capitalism and a free market economy is so much more favorable for a nation than socialism. They have no basis of economic understanding and so when someone says that college will be free, and everyone should get a higher minimum wage and we should tax the rich more so everyone can have nice things- they think hey that sounds great! They can’t see the “danger” signs flashing that the economy will collapse because business cannot sustain such a burden. They only see the benefit of the here and now. These are the future voters and they have been deliberately mislead, and not taught the details of our history and government. It’s really appalling.
Mediocrity exists because our vision is small and our wills are weak. When we sacrifice our futures on the altar of what we want right now, we will remain average and never find our true passion and purpose through excellence.