KD-ADS: Expanding Horizons

Cos thinking should never be stagnant...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Feeling of Ordinariness

Some people say when fear strikes you, and I mean really hit you at the core of your heart, unlike what most people would imagine, you would actually be frozen on your feet, with no immediate ideas on how to react to the fear-stimulus, hence crippling the person quite severely. For most people, they may never have to face that 'fear', for some, that 'fear' may require extraordinary circumstances to inflict such paralysis; for me, that 'fear' has come close to visiting my heart.

And that is the fear of being ordinary.

As some of my acquaintances know about myself, I hold an intense fear of being "ordinary". Being described as the average Joe, the Joe Six-Pack, the Tom and Jones, the Tans (i.e. a common Chinese surname), whicever, that sudden realization that I could belong in such a pack sends shivers down my spine. Of course, that is not to say that one needs to have a record in the Guiness World of Records or needs to earn a tri-million salary to be special, but we all require a history of extraordinary, well-deserving achievements to regard ourselves with some form of esteem.

I would imagine, and sincerely hope that many people would have similar feelings and tell me that they have been in the 'same shoes'. And certainly, I like to think that the pangs of 'ordinariness' hits us from time to time. How often is it that when we have to meet a stranger, or someone we wish to impress, that we scramble our heads in search for a unique moment in our life to boast about? Or how often do we sometimes feel 'small' in the presence of others who seem to find it, as easy as it is to turn a coin, to recall and lament about their proudest achievements, with even more to come? And perhaps, how often have we sat with our acquaintances, friends, peers and families wondering when is it our turn to be admired for our brillance and character?

Most people find it an easy remedy to read some inspirational textbooks, or turn to religion, or to pop culture (with its 'Hollywood' propaganda values) for their answers, which I think can be summed in one sentence: You are unique from everyone and you just need to be happy and make use of your unique 'properties'. Nobody else has the same personality as you; nobody else can take your place; nobody else can relate to you the same way as your peers do; isn't that reason enough that you are of a outstanding and special individual?

But what I wish to describe most concretely, is a selfish and self-reflective loneliness that you are unable to search within yourself for an answer...no, for a meaning that you can define yourself with. It's probably in some sense, the total opposite of narcissim; instead of polishing yourself with self-love and ignorance of overestimated abilities, you confront yourself with the knowledge of how little you have accomplished and you are inflicted with a syndrome that despite your best efforts, you are still "ordinary Joe".

Usually, at moments of, what it may seem routine-like activity, such as writing a resume, you would find yourself in this spot. Or as I learnt from a friend, it can be when you are in a tight position to complete a task (e.g. finding a job) that this anxiety will creep up on you, and drain your energy and emotions away from you. As some of us may have experienced, we could easily 'fall from grace' and slip into a mood, reminscent of a coma.

The odd thing about this "heart attack" is that it doesn't kill you, but it brings you down to a level where you find yourself unable to work (much less blog, as both of my blog demonstrates). I find it incredulous that though I am armed with the knowledge to leap out of this ditch, but nevertheless it's like jumping into another vacuum; you can get out of it once but you can't get out of it forever. Further, the jump seems to demand so much more from you that you imagine that "ordinary ol' me" can't expect to achieve it.

In a way, I've come to relate to a particular acquaintance of mine. This fellow is tediously exhausting myself with getting the best grades ever, despite my repeated efforts to assure him that grades do not make a man. Though I agree with this value, I could see that it wasn't so much the 'grades' that he was chasing; it was the socially approving value of excellent 'grades' that he needed. To not have it is to wallow into the creeping suspicion that he is just as "ordinary" than his peers, and further just as "ordinary" as his families and peers would compare him to others. Of course, my affirmation of his strengths are usually met with strong skepticism on his part.

It then took me some time to realise, perhaps the answers lies in that some of our perculiar strengths fail to be recognised by the current social systems. For instance, I am regularly lambasted from my "practical" others that my ideals and values are simply "uninhabitable" in the current era, and I have been told quite straight in my face that I will "never be able to live anywhere". Meeting these comments have put me at odds with each other, and most surely, also distinctly cut myself away from the 'ordinary others'. Is it of no wonder that the most out-of-place people with unique strengths are usually at the front doors of hostility from others who could never treasure the "marketable" status of their own fellow men? In other words, is it necessary to cut yourself a special status by subjugating yourself to achieving awards that others deem as worthy?

Why can't we start to look at ourselves as being more than "ordinary" because we manage to stand outside the status quo, and say "wait...life doesn't have to be this way?" Why can't we decree as special individuals preciously because we are able to creatively imagine, think and challenge the words from the establishment? Why is it scary to realise that no matter what, all of us are "ordinary" in our ways and that this knowledge, of all of us being "ordinary", is the very thing that makes us "unique"?

Perhaps I haven't thought of the answer out of this quagmire. But I hope that the sinking would only cease in due time, for there is only so far down one can go. Going up should not be a spontaneous act, but requires a more determined and self-willed conscience.