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Greatness is not measured by the size of the deed

Greatness is not measured by the size of the deed

In the introduction to its first edition, published many years back on the internet, The Journal of Mundane Behaviour makes an interesting point: we concentrate on the extraordinary and completely overlook the mundane. We give our attention to the most beautiful, the fastest, the most clever, the wealthiest. We dismiss the ordinary as unworthy of our attention, at our own expense.

I couldn’t agree more. I mostly work in the field of creativity, where everything is supposed to be exciting, showy and flashy. After years of being calculatedly interesting and ‘conceptual’, I find that the extraordinary produces a certain weariness. Coming up with exciting, new ideas can become depressing after you have done it for several years.

One of the social byproducts of the creative game is that you meet people who gravitate to the field in search of new sensations. Usually the first lures are the parties, and all the exciting people you can meet. But after a while, the people, their preoccupations and their motivations become blasé.

As each individual walks through the door and adds to the throng, it becomes possible to predict precisely what ego, drama, ambition and sordid personal issues that person will add to the occasion. So the extraordinary becomes completely and utterly banal. The complexities cease to amuse and you wind up with a headache that is not entirely due to the fact that you kept the bottle of cheap sherry all to yourself.

After a while, after a long, long while, the ordinary begins to seem like nirvana. You wake up in the morning, envious of people who go to work in ties and grey suits. You wonder wistfully what it would be like to have an orderly, predictable day with no excitement and no surprises whatsoever.

And when the excitement loses its appeal, like the third slice of chocolate cake that you order in the mistaken belief that it will look and taste as good as the first slice, you go out in search of the ordinary, in the knowledge that it is an escape from the rut of the bright lights and the ‘stand-out’ crowd.

You meet bikers who can field strip an engine, housewives with secret recipes, men with strange theories, young folks with all the conviction that they can be the ones to change the world and make things right. You discover people who at advanced age are still doggedly pursuing education, and a few, who with the shoulders of Atlas, become pillars of support to their community.

Every one of them is bound by one common strand: that they are not the sort of stuff that makes headlines. They are just ordinary people.

As you delve deeper into the stuff of society, you will find that each and every individual has a triumph to his or her name. The quiet guy who regularly gets overlooked for promotion and ignored at office parties may take pleasure in consistently beating his buddies at darts or pool. The woman who trundles the overflowing cart may be supremely proud of the fact that she can bake a cake that is the envy of her neighbours. The kid who sits in the back row of school may be dreaming of the time he beat a friend’s best score on some or other computer game.

The difference is that these people do not need widespread recognition. They are content with the inner knowledge that they have achieved something, and perhaps that a small circle of friends knows and recognizes their feats, skills and knowledge. These apparently mundane phenomena are fully fledged triumphs in their own rights.

But sadly, we measure greatness by the size of the deeds and the power of the glamour. So outside of a small circle of people surrounding the individual, greatness is not known.

We need the examples of heroes to spur us on to greater heights, but in ignoring what we believe to be mundane, our loss lies in the fact that we don’t recognize the greatness that surrounds us on an everyday level.

If you really want to know what is extraordinary, you need to take a look at what is ordinary first.

About The Author

Pierre Maré

Pierre Maré is a multi-awarded Namibian advertising strategist and copy writer. From 2004 to 2016 he wrote a weekly tongue-in-cheek column for the Namibia Economist, eventually amassing an impressive 590 articles over the almost 12-year period. This series of Offbeat is a digital rerun of his pieces that received the highest reader acclaim. - Ed.