Applauding Mediocrity


Allow me to paint a picture for you. An accountant sits at his desk, shuffling his pens and pencils, calculators and notes. He is surrounded by a large group of people, staring at him wide-eyed. He types away at his monthly expense report for hours, and when he finally finishes, the group of people burst into a thundering applause. Now you may be asking yourself, why would anyone clap for someone who is simply doing his or her job? Well, I agree, and that is why I am incredibly suspicious of people who clap when airplanes land successfully. 

This strange phenomenon bewilders me almost every time I travel. The plane begins its’ descent, and I look out the window at the thousands of homes and tiny buildings. I begin to picture all the ways that I could die in the next five minutes. I think, “If the plane crashes, I hope I die on impact. Yes, that would be better than being burned alive in the wreckage”. I am shaken out of my daydream with the unnerving sound of the wheels hitting the tarmac. “Phew, "I think to myself, “another bullet dodged” and then suddenly I hear it, something that cuts to the core of my being and angers me far more than the thought of being incinerated in a plane crash: applause.  It begins slowly with only a couple of my fellow passengers, but sure enough, their comrades of the air start to join in, applauding and cheering for the pilot as if he has just turned water into wine. 

I am all for giving congratulations and thanks when they are due. However, I will never, ever, cheer for a pilot completing a routine landing. In my view, that is idolizing mediocrity. It is almost as if the passengers are saying “great job! You didn’t kill us all!”  I believe this is the equivalent of giving every player in the little league a trophy at the end of the season. Let’s face it; some kids are better than others. Even in my formative years, I knew I certainly was not the next Mickey Mantle, however year after year I received a trophy, a false idol to my non-existent skills, and a testament to the American ritual of rewarding the mundane. 

This is why many American children are shocked when they grow up to find that they are not the rock stars or pro-athletes they thought they would be. In fact, they may grow up to be just like that accountant I mentioned in my first paragraph. We are not all beautiful people, shining stars, and we are not the heavenly godsends our parents told us we were. However, we can be rational thinkers, and we should aim to set the bar high and to avoid mediocrity at all costs.  So I implore you that the next time you begin to clap for your pilot, consider the alternative. Consider applauding only for greatness, for something that is truly worthy of adoration and wonder, for something that reminds you of a time when only the best and the brightest were rewarded, and not every mediocre kid in little league who received a trophy.