There's something that's always bothered me, though, and today I've decided to work that out here. He always ends the segment by saying, "That's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." I'll admit I love making the women strong and the men good-looking--kindof messing with stereotypes and all that. But the last one. All the children are above average. Well now that just doesn't make any sense.
It's possible that he means all the children in Lake Wobegon are above some kind of national average. It's also worth noting that Keillor is making an artistic point here, and he doesn't intend to subject the News to arithmetic scrutiny. Sure thing, Garrison. But it nags at me. Because I'm a nerd. I started unpacking.
We aren't comfortable with being average. We're all taught from a very young age to strive for excellence. Heck, in the Methodist church we are supposed to think we are striving for perfection. Not in this life, sister. There's a reason it was amusing when my good friend Lance Waller asked me to participate in a song writing contest with him and he said he really wanted to win second place. Really? Reaching for second place? Uhm... Ok. [Editor's Note: We did in fact win second place in that contest with Lance's song "Pandemic Blues." Enjoy.] [More Editor's Note: Holy crap, how does that video have more than 2000 views?!]
The piano work in that video there is average, at best. It's probably somewhat below average. I'm ok with that. It was fun. And it was good for second place.
Lately I've been coming to realize that I am actually average by most measures. Far from exceptional by any measure. There are many better musicians. Many better writers. Many better music directors. Many better husbands. Many better parents. Many better children. Many better friends. Many better Christians. Many better, well, people.
That's not to say I'm not unique. We all are. I might not be the best at any of those things, but when you combine them with my other gifts and inclinations and priorities there's definitely nobody else quite like me. I'm just not exceptionally gifted in any particular way is all. Certainly not above average like all the children in Lake Wobegon.
I start to wonder if striving to be above average is really a good idea anyway. Seems to me like it would generate a constant feeling of inadequacy and discontentment. Not that we don't try to improve, nor that we ever quit growing and evolving. My fifth rule for daily living is that we should all keep growing, after all. It's just that seeking to outpace the average--seeking to be exceptional--forces us to compare ourselves to everyone else. Comparing ourselves to everyone else is dangerous for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we can't really compare effectively because we are all unique.
What if, instead of trying to be the best and greatest--instead of trying to be above average--we committed to being our best selves, finding our role on this crazy rock and living into it? No judgment. No comparison except to our own potential.
I don't know. In the wrong hands, this idea could breed abject mediocrity. Heaven forbid. But in the right hands, it might breed its own form of excellence--a world in which we all strive to be our better selves and have a better chance of reaching that goal because we aren't distracted by the people who are better than us...or worse.
We are who we are. Unique and special and average. History may not remember most of us. But it will not be because we weren't worth remembering. It will be because our best traits live on not on our resume or in our obituary but in the lives of the people we encounter, in the lives of the people they encounter, and in the lives of the people they encounter.