#10 Being Average

This issue is inspired by one of the poems I recently read called “To the Average Men” by Wallace Irwin. Wallace is known for his clever and humorous writing and this was the first poem in his book called Random rhymes and odd numbers. It describes the life of an average man, with average circumstances, average expectations and average results. In this poem, he goes from writing:

“Statistics declare that the Average Man
Finds the Average Woman and mates;
That the Average Family, children all told,
Is something like two and three-eights.
(Though fractional children disturb and appal,
The Average Man isn’t worried at all.)”

to “But deep in the breast of the Average Man
The passions of ages are swirled,
And the loves and the hates of the Average Man
Are old as the heart of the world
For the thought of the Race, as we live and we die,
Is in keeping the Man and the Average high.”

I believe that there are two opinions on this. There’s a set of people who feels that being average makes you happier and more grateful as Wallace writes in most of this poem. It keeps you stress-free as you’re mediocre in everything and aren’t setting unrealistic standards for yourself.

The other point of view is more common – Being average restricts you and deprives you of the greater things you want to achieve. Being average makes your life boring and makes you less ambitious as you start settling with the result you get. I recently overheard someone say, “Aim for higher than you want, this way you’ll be able to at least get what you want.”

I understand both the viewpoints here and there’s a considerable amount of evidence to support both of them. Some studies even suggest that the ‘Better than Average Effect’ is observed because “average” is often construed as the below-median ability:

“[..]when assessing self-enhancement bias in comparative judgments of ability, it is important to ascertain how the judges interpret “average ability” and accordingly interpret the results with caution. When asked to compare their ability to an average person, some people may not grasp the intended meaning of the comparison target (e.g., median ability). Indeed, as studies have shown, when people are asked to compare their abilities to those of a vivid and specific, rather than general, comparison target.” 

In my opinion – no one is completely average. The ‘average man’ Wallace describes in this poem doesn’t actually exist. It depends on the choices you make and how you measure being “average”. Choosing mediocrity is restrictive as you’re choosing to remain stagnant. There’s always a difference between who you are and who you want to be.