Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mediocrity and the Tall Poppy Syndrome

Kate at Small Dead Animals has a great little post up this morning that caught my eye. A link to a blog poll asking "Who Is The Most Mediocre Canadian" by LWOT. I would nominate myself, but that would imply that I was trying to achieve some honour, and thereby disqualify me. But then again, stories in the press day after day present us with a litany of foibles and f**k ups of folks so below average that they could only aspire to mediocrity.

But when you think about it, Canada rewards mediocrity. How else to explain the CBC? After all, except for certain areas of Alberta and Saskatchewan, we generally don't celebrate the ethic of rugged individualism and freedom. Instead we emphasize (increasingly since Trudeau started the project of social engineering our country beyond recognition) equality and 'universality'. Of course, that's all well and good, but it does mean that everything tends toward the mean. Average is better, typically average is best.

We're a country that doesn't celebrate its heroes. Heck, we don't even teach about them, especially if they did whatever they did that was heroic before 1968. In Who Killed Canadian History (1998), Jack Granatstein laments that only 4 provinces teach any Canadian history at all in the high schools, and that when history is taught it is filtered through a lens of fashionable victimology and political correctness. This is not to suggest that the purpose in teaching history is the manufacturing and propagandizing of heroes. Far from it. But it is from the study of the struggles, the forebearance and the achievements of people in our nation's past, that we may learn to model heroism, achievement, excellence in our own time.

In The Unfinished Canadian (2007), Andrew Cohen writes that one of the problems with Canada is that we tend to cut down those who rise above the crowd. We resent those who truly excel. Cohen calls it "the tall poppy Syndrome." Whether we talk of movies, music, literature, academics, business, etc., if it's Canadian its second-tier -- and we like it that way. Oh sure, when we see a Canadian make it on the world stage (be it in acting, sports, music, or whatever), we are all too happy to claim that person's achievements as "Canadian accomplishments," but we often do that long after the person in question has actually left the country for good. Toronto's Walk of Fame is strewn with names of distinguished Canadians who once lived here, maybe when they were growing up. Others we claim as Canadian, just because they once stayed here, no matter how briefly. Fine. Everybody's a Canadian. Change planes at Pearson -- you're a Canadian. Now, that's a recipe for mediocrity.

So, be sure to visit The Mediocre Canadian, and cast your vote. The field is wide open.

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