What does it mean to be ordinary?
And what if depression were a sane reaction from realists to a world careening out of control?
Did I lose five years of my life to major depressive disorder because I feel and think too much? Or was it because I wasn’t quite prepared for how America works when I immigrated in 2013?
Realists are those blunt folks too down-to-earth to ever espouse the “stay positive” school of self-delusion that provides ego massages on tap. And yet, no matter how inconvenient our radical honesty comes across as, our ranks are growing. The greater the reach of greed and individualism, the more some of us push back in the name of human dignity.
One might argue there’s never been a better time to do so than ahead of a life-changing election in which America could realistically elect someone other than Donald Trump. But likely will not as he is a terrifyingly honest representation of who America is, what it values, and how it behaves on the world stage.
For example, setting more boundaries and erecting more walls between us can’t possibly be the way any society will evolve and yet many of us do exactly that at individual level despite expressing shock at Trump’s ideas. We build echo chambers that comfort us in our self-righteousness; we build niches that elevate us to the status of instant experts about nothing more groundbreaking than our own person.
As an aside, “niche” means doghouse in French.
Realists, meanwhile, shun walls; we are at our best attempting to build bridges to make the world a more tolerant and tolerable place to live in. Even when no favourable outcome looks possible what matters to us is to try, on the off-chance it might just work out.
Often, those bridges are wobbly and collapse half-way through. We lose purchase, we fall into the water, we flounder and flail and make fools of ourselves, hoping someone will be there to offer us a hand to hold.
When there isn’t anyone, we sometimes sink to the bottom without a trace; when we manage to conjure up enough mental and physical wherewithal to fight, we kick the ocean floor and make our way back up to the surface.
And we start rebuilding the bridge because there is no other way forward out of the darkness.
What if ordinary were guaranteed?
If it were some baseline we could all count on, would we start valuing it then?
If basics like shelter, food, good health, and education were within everyone’s reach and guaranteed via a social safety net or even a Universal Basic Income, would we be more inclined to collaborate rather than compete?
After all, some continents and countries afford more dignity to the humans within their borders than others, their culture is less sensitive to consumerism as a result, and their citizens lead far gentler, happier lives.
While we’re all sailing blind and figuring out how to do human as we go along, what might we achieve if maintaining the status quo no longer were our primary concern? Alas, a culture that emphasizes profiteering above all else stands no chance of ever finding out.
But individuals can by valuing that which greed often causes us to overlook.
Those keenly aware of the uncertainty that surrounds us understand the status quo is often the best we can do although we seldom celebrate it. Instead, we loathe to jeopardize what we’ve achieved lest we should lose it all but we remain dissatisfied and quite unable to enjoy — or muster any gratitude for — what we have.
Because a consumerist culture conditions us to always want more.
Failure to appreciate the moment means we can never revel in it, or in how far we’ve come, or indeed in what it takes on a daily basis to make life happen.
And yet it’s no small feat, is it?
What if ordinary were heroic by default?
In an ever-polarizing world intent on hijacking our attention, maintaining sanity is never a given. Doing so takes courage and frequent defiance to push back against that which directly erodes our sense of self. Be it capitalism, be it individualism, be it greed, going against the grain is always risky and calls for intellectual humility.
Admitting that we don’t even know what we don’t know is a lot harder than pretending we’re in control of everything and have all the answers. It also implies the kind of self-awareness that pushes us to learn how to do and be better every day, the kind of vulnerability many mistake for weakness.
Many of us are terrified of the judgment of others; we fear being seen as incapable, incompetent, or inept so we go to unspeakable lengths to conform. Out of facility, laziness or both, we dare not swim against a current that doesn’t serve us even when there’s a chance we might drown.
And yet, without the willingness to crack ourselves open and find out what we’re made of, we can never overcome or transcend limitations. Instead, they become a comfort zone we bemoan at length because complaining is easy, instant, and most of all effortless.
And it resonates without fail: So many of us are disgruntled with our circumstances that kvetching has become a team sport, regardless of how much we evangelize self-confidence and big dreams under the guise of inspiring ourselves and others.
When thanklessness snowballs, greed grows.
Had we understood we’re already defying entropy every day, wouldn’t we be a little more self-assured in how we approach life?
What if ordinary were good enough?
We’re so wrapped up in ourselves that we routinely fail to acknowledge shelter and sustenance as the privileges they are.
Often, It’s not until they slip away from us that we realize how much they take to achieve.
The same goes with the fellow humans who surround us. Despite the many technological advances at our disposal, we’ve used them to perfect the art of being alone in a crowd, fingers and eyes glued to a small glass rectangle.
Many of us chase after fans but no longer know how to make friends. Many of us crave validation but no longer know how to have a conversation that isn’t transactional. Many of us seek recognition but no longer know how to deal with feedback and criticism that could help us be and do better if only we bothered to pay attention to it.
Ordinary, we’ve decided, is for losers and those who lack the ambition to go after their dreams; ordinary is stagnation while success is growth.
We’re so out of touch with the present moment that we keep losing ourselves in absurd considerations of fame and fortune. Why we don’t have it and what might happen if it did becomes our favourite fantasy even when nothing in our life hints at potential greatness.
But why should ordinary be undesirable?
Routine supports our lives; even those whose livelihood is creative like coders, artists, or copywriters rely on it. Routine makes the world go around. While disruption can lead to improvements, disruption for disruption’s sake can do much more harm than good.
As a result, some of us refuse to live in a state of constant want and striving; we refuse to turn ourselves into products or brands forprofit and additional income streams.
Instead, some of us choose to be present in the moment and acknowledge the magic of ordinariness. When you realize you already have all you need no matter how modest your circumstances, contentment is easy, accessible, and plentiful.
Stop for a moment, look around, and take stock of all that’s good in your life right now, whether it’s the cup of coffee on your desk, your co-worker’s joke, the laughter of your child, or that warm and fuzzy feeling inside whenever you think of those you love.
Life is but an instant so what if we made the most of it instead of constantly wishing it away?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.