In desperate need of a break from Virginal Bella, I’ve decided that it’s time for another editorial. This time I’d like to focus on mediocrity and the way a lot of people treat it.
It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that we’re all a part of a society that loves to be praised. Whether it’s as an individual or a group makes no difference—we crave approval and adulation, and we want all that we can get. Most of us, anyway.
Somewhere along the line, some wires must have gotten crossed. Somebody decided that since praise makes you feel good, and criticism makes you feel bad, then we should never criticize and only ever say nice things. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” you were probably talking to an idiot or a third grader.
The reality is that blanket praise serves no useful purpose except to swell egos and fuel self-centeredness, often in the people who have the least reason to be proud. Ego, pride, and self-importance are the enemies of any artist. The better you think you are, the worse it makes you. But that’s where mediocrity comes in.
You see, there are those among us who are excellent at what they do. They work hard and make it look easy, and when their head hits the pillow at night, they aren’t thinking about the thousands of people who showered them in praise today, or even the critics who lambasted them—their focus is on how they can go out tomorrow and do better.
On the other hand, you have the person whose contribution is less than stellar. They try to emulate the best and make their work look effortless by putting in very little effort. They lash out at criticism and surround themselves with “yes men” whose sole purpose is to blow smoke up their ass all day and remind them, despite the massive amount of legitimate criticism, that they’re the best.
The only constant about the mediocre is that they only ever get worse. There is no personal evolution, no growth or change. They are, almost universally, one-trick ponies. They have the one thing that they do that gets them the attention they crave, and they’ll repeat it with only the slightest alteration and keep doing so long after people stop caring.
Why? Well, because they don’t want to be good. They want to be noticed. They look at those who piss excellence and see their fame, not their work. Their goal is to be famous, not deserving of fame. And I personally find that mentality completely fucked up.
It doesn’t stop there. Criticism becomes unbearable, reducing every critique, no matter how innocent or sincere, to the most heinous flame, written by haters who just want to hate someone awesome because they aren’t awesome themselves, and other bullshit you tell grade school kids to make them feel better about teasing.
I’ll be the first to tell you that a person’s importance, self-perceived or otherwise, is the last thing I consider when dealing with them. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care who you know, and I don’t care where you came from, how high you’ve climbed, or what it looks like from up there. All I care about is what you’ve done, and how it measures up against scrutiny.
I’ve heard at least five or six independently concordant stories about a certain author, and please don’t out this person by name because that isn’t the point here. If all accounts are to be believed, her ego is legendary. She gets dressed up to write and announces her self-given titles of greatness. What actually hits the page is irrelevant; she’s shown you through garb and told you from her own lips how great she and her work are; to question it for any reason is to call her a liar and to put her ego in check.
The ironic thing is, this author could actually improve if she’d put in some effort. Her stories, while boring and unimaginative, aren’t the incoherent ramblings of a crazy person. By refusing to accept fault for anything, and even denying the flaws in her work, she doesn’t try to better herself, and thus she remains gloriously pedestrian.
The mediocre have already achieved greatness in their own minds and hope that the droning, repetitious statement of their excellence by themselves and those few who call themselves “friends and fans” will be enough to convince the world. They’ve allowed themselves to become convinced of their own worthiness.
Critique is wasted on this type of person. It does nothing but drive their ego haywire, stoking their ire and incurring their wrath. They lash out, making the most fantastic and public spectacle of themselves that they can. They assume that everyone’s ego should function as theirs does, and that the critic will crumple to the ground and cry out to the heavens to make it all stop. They’re wrong.
It should be understood that we were all, at one time, mediocre. Most of us still are. We humble ourselves and admit that we are the problem. It’s a realization that happens for everyone differently, and for some, not at all.
Next time you think of leaving a review for someone just to tell them how perfect they are, especially if it isn’t true, don’t. You aren’t being nice and you aren’t being helpful. Maybe point out something you saw that can be improved upon along with telling them something you liked—be specific. A criticism is not a flame unless you word it that way. Compliments do make criticism more palatable, but they shouldn’t be the only thing at the buffet.