Not everyone can be above average, half of all people will be below average (more or less), and very few are special in any practically meaningful sense. These are truths that are self-evident, yet, inpractice, they are often forgotten.
Athelron has remarked (recently, when I began writing this post) on the save the world mentality he finds among his Silicon valley friends. The manosphere is full of people decrying “average” men and calling for men to become their own particular idea of a superman. Since Don’t Waste Your Life became a big hit, evangelicals have adopted the ‘don’t waste your life’ ethos. Throughout life, everybody seems to want to get involved in the big causes: poverty in Africa, violence in the Middle East, national politics, etcetera, etcetera.
Now none of this is necessarily bad in moderation: you should try to do good for the world around you, you should work to be a better version of yourself, and Christians should work to advance God’s kingdom, but it’s gotten to where the normal life is actively impugned. The family man is painted as a sucker wasting his life in a dreary cubicle, while the mother is painted for wasting her life on her children (rather than, ironically enough, spending it in the cubicle). Everybody has to be the best, to achieve more than their neighbour.
Yet this should not be. While yes, some people have to work on big things, on saving the world, on foreign missions, on becoming ubermensch, most people are not, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact it is good that most people will not.
Throughout most of history, a man’s world would consist of his tribe or village, he would know about a Dunbar’s number’s worth of people throughout his life. A man could have a significant impact on this world. If you brought down a deer, everyone in your whole world would be fed for a day or two. If you were a blacksmith, you were probably the only one, the best one, in your village. It was easy to save the world when your world was a couple dozen people, it was easy to be (one of) the best at something when only a few other people in your entire world did what you did.
But, as the comic above illustrated, it’s not so easy. Saving a million, a billion, people is a lot harder than saving 50, it’s almost impossible. Being the best in a field is rare when there your field consists of tens or hundreds of thousands, rather than a handful. Yet we still try, we’ve even made an ideology of it, to our own ruin.
Look at the consequences of when everybody tries to do big things: Young people waste years and huge dollars in college to “pursue their passions”, men turn from family and productive work out of frustration of ‘not accomplishing anything’ or in hopes of pursuing ‘greater things’, men think of themselves as losers for doing honest work and raising a family, women turn against family formation to pursue “accomplishment” and become miserable and childless working to achieve that coveted high-impact job, people get parasitical jobs in the ‘non-profit’ sector, billions are wasted on ineffective foreign aid, wasteful status competitions ensue over who is the best or the most impactful, short-term missions waste valuable resources, ineffective Twitter campaigns provide an illusion of dogoodery, etc.
The simple fact is, outside of a handful of exceptional individuals, most people will not be able to have any real impact on the world as a whole, but that is fine. You don’t need to.
The Parable of the Talents
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Not everyone has been given ten talents, most people probably haven’t even been given five. Most people have one or two. But you don’t need have ten, you simply have to use what you have to do what you can. The demand is not even for doubling, but just to collect interest. You don’t have to be the best, you don’t have to save the world, you just have to invest what you have to do what you can.
Looking back at the above, what if, instead of trying to save the world through the useless #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign, each tweeter had instead donated $10 to their local homeless shelter? what if, instead of wasting tens of thousands so a youth group can feel good about themselves, the money was given to an actual missionary or directly to local Christian missions? What if instead of pursuing their passions, their greatness, their high status job, their large house, etc. men and women were content to raise work a modest job, raise a family, and engage with their community? What if instead of protests for foreign aid, people spent that time volunteering in their local community?
Wouldn’t that be better? Wouldn’t that actually be far more useful? Wouldn’t people be happier?
The problem is, too many people try to think globally and act globally, too many people spend too much time on issues which they can’t effect, while they ignore the people and issues near them which they can effect. Remember who your neighbour is:
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
(Luke 10:29-37 ESV)
While usually this is interpreted to mean: your neighbour is the person who needs help whoever it is, there’s also the other way to interpret it: the neighbour is the person who’s there needing help. The Good Samaritan did not travel to Sudan for missions, he did not start a charity to help robbed, he didn’t run a political campaign to make safer streets, he did not send $100 to Tibet to help the mugged, all he did was stumble across the guy at the side of the road and help him out. Even Jesus does not demand more from everybody. Some have special callings, most don’t, your calling is probably just to help the guy at the side of the road. All that is demanded of you is to help those around you.
Finally, great men are not solitary. Alexander the Great was only great because of the support of thousands of men. Genghis Khan conquered Asia with the help of a nameless horde. Jesus’ words spread because of 72 unnamed disciples. Every missionary requires monetary support, every general requires troops, every titan of industry requires workers. Great men are great because they’re leading and supported by many more average men. In our modern hyper-competitive society, a lot of people shit on those average men, but they’re the ones who get shit done. Being that average man supporting the great men is valuable in its own right.
You don’t have to be special, it’s impossible for everyone to be. You don’t have to save the world, you can’t. Some people are called to do great things, most aren’t. You can do average things and still have a meaningful, impactful life. You don’t have to save the world, be the best, or become a super alpha male, instead, focus on something meaningful you can do and do what you can where you are.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
(Matthew 25:34-40 ESV)