It’s one of humanity’s more interesting characteristics that many a person will go beyond the known and the ordinary.
Where another animal may go to new places while looking for food or new territory, but will usually stay in its habitat, a human being may decide to “venture out into the unknown” or climb a mountain simply (as George Mallory famously stated) “because it’s there.”
Tell a person that something cannot be done, there will be some who feel challenged to prove the statement wrong.
It isn’t the worst of our characteristics, in all the boundary-pushing and exploration and, hopefully, learning it leads to.
The problem, however, is that we are increasingly seeing an extremization of the world, sometimes in feats, most often mainly just in the messages that are being spread (including by and about those feats).
We fear extremism in e.g. the Muslim world, and when it strikes, it makes headlines and breeds fear. But it rarely ever even touches the lives of most of us not living in the hotspots of conflict in the Levant or other places that are affected daily and directly.
Daily extremization – in the way online and increasingly also political discussions go, in the way life advice is being shaped and shifted, in simple practices and messages that are around us all the time – meanwhile, strikes at us constantly.
Take sports, for example.
All that has come to count is, increasingly, the points made, the times achieved, the new records.
Of course, that is the measure of success and the measure by which comparison is easiest.
It is also, however, the measure because of which doping is rampant, longer-term prospects and health concerns of athletes are given short shrift, and technology is both being driven to extremes and being restricted.
Take marketing and product choices, e.g. for food.
It is either outrageous claims designed to appeal to customer’s likes – the natural, the functional, immune-boosting, fat-shedding, energy-giving – or merely the lowest of prices and the highest of quantities – Take 5, Pay 2; Lowest Price Anywhere – that count anymore.
Quality and qualities that are real but not immediately appealing and instantly apparent just don’t stand a chance in comparison. Advertising, in the process, gets ever-more in-your-face.
And, of course, just look at your social media feed.
Buzzfeed-like headlines, Upworthy-style links; “unbelievable-what-happens-next”-s and “10-strange-things-you-didn’t-know”-s are everywhere, everything just asks for your attention. And the attention is grabbed and not let loose the easiest by – you guessed it – appealing to the basest and arguing with the most extreme.
It would not be such a concern if it were only in social media, marketing, and sports, but everything is increasingly going to extremes.
Your food isn’t really good enough anymore if it isn’t functionally useful and Instagram-worthily beautiful, strictly paleo or strictly vegan or at least sure to be gluten-free.
Your training isn’t worth it if it isn’t an all-out Crossfit effort that leaves you panting; even in yoga, it seems like people increasingly aim to impress and “win.”
Your life certainly doesn’t stand the daily average scrutiny of your social networking circle, let alone the social comparison against the groups we see every day – in TV series or documentary formats or in magazines and the news.
If you are just average, you are nothing.
If you want to be something, anything, it seems you have to go for the action.
Do something worthy of attention and shout it from the rooftops.
You didn’t just eat breakfast, you have to have had the best breakfast muffin bacon burrito ever!
But hello, special snowflake, the majority is average.
And average isn’t even so bad, it’s most of a life.
Even emperors went to the porcelain throne, and they did so on foot, to boot.
Even the richest of people had and have their heartbreaks, their disappointments, and more than a few average and just plain ordinary experiences. Some, as the saying goes, are so poor they have nothing but money…
Ordinary life, in fact, isn’t just the usual, it is also easily the better.
We need a ceasefire. A view not just from peaks but also from valley floors, and far along from the middle flanks of our perspectives.
Quit it with the extremes, the ever-more-exaggerated, the extra-extraordinary.
Take a breath.
Get to calm.
Enjoy just simply being alive, discovering simple foods, enjoying gentle motion, looking at the grass beneath your feet, and watching the people in your street. And not tweeting or instagraming it.
Growth may happen outside the comfort zone, but life is not lived in the extremes.
A better life, and a better world, is not built on money and commerce and the attention economy and the rush of ever-faster, ever-greater, ever-more, breathless panting and pandering and heedless rushes into the known and advertised and promised to be oh-so-great.
It is built on a foundation of calm and common sense, learning and growing and remaining able to appreciate the extra-ordinary.