Six days after July 4th, I am reminded of the famous line in the 1996 Will Smith movie Independence Day:
We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!
Most likely taken from the well-known poem by Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night“, these motivating words move us to strive, fight, to press on towards success of whatever endeavor lies before us. They convince us not to become the prey in this world of Darwinian economics. We are moved when the imagination of victory and success seems to possibly materialize into reality.
But where there are winners, there are losers. Where there are predators, there are prey. Where there are the fittest, there lies under their feet, the unfit. But between these two poles of meritocracy exists another group of people. The forgotten group: the ordinary. Alina Tugend writes in her NY Times column titled, “Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary” about how America and American parents have forgotten to appreciate the ordinary that they are anxious their children will not be stellar and Tugend wonders if, “there is any room for the ordinary any more, for the child or teenager — or adult — who enjoys a pickup basketball game but is far from Olympic material, who will be a good citizen but won’t set the world on fire.”
I do not think we should ignore the words of Dylan Thomas or President Whitmore of “Independence Day” on account of saving the ordinary. The drive for success in it of itself is not a bad thing. But Tugend’s argument does shed light on the importance of where this drive for success originates. She hints that modern America see success only in the frame work of monetary gain or increase of fame. What is needed instead, I suspect, are people who value the ‘artistry’ of each career or skill. To see the value and beauty of the athlete, the scholar, the social worker, the scientist, the politician, the financial analyst without considering financial gain or reputation in its valuation. Of course, this is unrealistically ideal. But maybe that’s the point, that this world is an imperfect form of something else. That there awaits a world where the ordinary of this world becomes extraordinary, in CS Lewis’ words:
…a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.