For a long time, itâ€™s been OK to indulge in the comfort of mediocrity. A long period of prosperity has made it all too easy to settle into a full time, five day work week, not getting rich or changing the world, but living a very happy life. However, the recent economic shakeup, as well as the ever more apparent arrival of what many are now recognizing as the end of an American gilded age, seems to have shaken our mass psychology. To be mediocre is to perpetuate the status quo, and anxiety that the status quo equals a steady decline seems to grow each day.
Thatâ€™s one of the reasons that us Minnesotans love the winter. Take the arctic blast that snuck across the US-Canadian border this past week, fifty below wind chills disrupting daily routines and shutting down highways. And yet, people could not be happier. It is a relief, in fact, to have â€œthe struggleâ€ so easily defined, to have the opportunity to overcome, to face a challenger that is unambiguous. Simply surviving weather that is literally, physically dangerous is a virtue in itself, launching each and every person who dares the wind out of their mortal mediocrity and into a realm of greatness. Indeed, this past Saturday night was much busier than it was a week ago, when it was much milder, people going out for a movie or meeting friends for a drink, many of them purposely leaving their stocking caps in the car.
Removing the ambiguity from that â€œstruggleâ€ is intoxicating, for in reality most are uncertain exactly what to do. There is a general feeling that the comfort of existence is threatened, that as we are standing still there are other forces working to undermine Americaâ€™s global dominance, masses of people that we cannot see and do not understand that are getting smarter, working harder, and about to do everything that we do better and faster. Without clear direction, the weight of anxiety pushes down on everything, making each thought and action vital yet somehow desperate, even futile.
Mediocrity is death. Numb at first, then very achy, and then, well, consider euthanasia. Even this yearâ€™s presidential politics and the massive social mood swings they ignite are manifesting mediocre anxiety. Without â€œchange,â€ without leadership and policy that is truly progressive and wonderful and focused,