On Being Remarkable

The Remarkableness of Unremarkableness

We live in an age united by a bad idea: Strive for more. It is an idea we adopt in hope of buying ourselves the kind of life which pulls admiration from others. For it is the idea used by people who command large sums of money, live in penthouses and travel to exotic locations at will - people who are 'remarkable'.

But, it's needful to ponder over one implication of our hope: that we are unremarkable.

Realizing this implication can be a source of discomfort. Not only does it cancel out our claim at being remarkable it dashes our hope that we will ever be, rendering the pursuit of remarkableness pointless. Some people submit to this realization. The rest of us do everything we can to dispel it. We can not be unremarkable. We will strive and succeed and the world will come to call us our deserving title: Truly remarkable.

We have democracy to thank for our stance. The beautiful privilege of living in a democratic world insists every life is of equal value. Everyone is remarkable.

But before democracy was conceived and gifted to the world the Roman Catholic Church existed. During its earliest moments, everyone was not of equal value. There were those who had closer ties to God and those who did not. Nonetheless, despite this position, it promulgated everyone did have something special and remarkable. A precious entity, a spark of divinity. The soul. The church believed, and continues to believe, each of us live animated by a soul.

What are we to make of this claim? It's hard to say.

The clear difference between our time and the time when the Roman Catholic Church reigned supreme is that, at the time when the supremeness of the Roman Catholic Church was unquestionable, the value of a person's soul mattered more in the afterlife. In our democratic age, the value of a person matters on earth and can be demonstrated on earth before his time to head to the afterlife. 

The similarity rests in the claim that everyone carries a trait of remarkableness. But while The Roman Catholic Church accounted, and continues to account, for the implication of this claim our democratic society does not. Once a year, in its ceremony of Ash Wednesday, using one sentence, the church reminds its members of the unremarkableness of human nature: "We are nothing but dust, and unto dust shall we return".

It is a melancholy-inducing reminder but one worthy of note. It offers us perspective. It brings to mind that in an era where the message is to stand-out at all cost, present the best and do whatever it takes to garner Facebook likes, our decision to strive must be based on ideas that account for our humanity. But perhaps, the most important thing it reveals to us is this: We are unremarkable and this too can be a remarkable thing.

An Imagined Reality

Another useful insight the account of the Roman Catholic Church brings to mind is that we live in a world made up of stories.

One of the ways we separate what can help us to live and what might be a threat to this effort is to look to what others do in their own efforts to live. Broadly speaking, we think in terms of what kills John is likely to kill the rest of us and what keeps John in good health is likely to keep the rest of us in good health. Human survival endures because of our ability to look to one another for bits of knowledge, narratives. In our effort, we develop and look to institutions to accord us guidance. The culmination has been churches, governments and a host of other institutional pillars responsible for weaving narratives of what can help us to live and what might be a threat to this effort.

One narrative that permeates our current age is founded on the following idea: Everyone is destined to do the extraordinary.

This idea sits as the motive that inspires us who believe it is the duty of people to strive for more. A beautiful idea, but one that would have been called horse-shit a thousand years ago. One example demonstrates: When Jesus the Christ said he was the son of God, he was killed. His claim at being extraordinary too insane for his peers to bear.

To understand how an idea considered ridiculous a thousand years ago can exert a powerful force in our age we must turn to a concept called an Imagined Reality. Yuval Harari explains in his phenomenal book, Sapiens:
The kinds of things that people create through [.] network of stories are known in academic circles as ‘fictions’, ‘social constructs’, or ‘imagined realities’.
Many of us are suspicious of grandiose ideas such as everyone is destined to do the extraordinary. We consider them lies, fabricated statements serving as pseudo-motivational stimulants employed by big corporations to seduce people into getting jobs done. But it is flawed to call ideas which exert powerful force, because of the sheer number of people who buy into them, lies. Harari clarifies:
An imagined reality is not a lie. [...] Unlike lying, an imagined reality is something that everyone believes in, and as long as this communal belief persists, the imagined reality exerts force in the world.
In other words, the reason an idea considered ridiculous a thousand years ago but somehow manages to keep us up at night in laborious grinds is because everyone believes in it. Everyone is destined to achieve the extraordinary isn't a lie but it is false to call it truth either. It is simply an idea a lot of people (sometimes unknowingly) choose to believe.

What are we to make of this knowledge?

Before we get into the exercise of striving for more, we are better off taking into account the narratives which inform our pursuit. The idea of a life adorn with extraordinary feats depends on the imagined reality from which the narrative of doing the extraordinary arise. Striving for more in an effort to achieve the extraordinary is far from being a real (necessity). It is simply a figment of human imagination.


We've seen that there is grace in recognizing our unremarkable nature and that a lot of the things we believe depend on the stories we tell ourselves. It is easy to fall prey to vague endeavours. In choosing to understand the set of ideas which serve us we become aware of the ideas worth holding on to and those better off in a trash bin.

Strive for more is better off in a trash bin. It demands that we realize our potential while leaving us blind to its never-ending nature. Let it suffice to simply say strive. Put in the effort. Achieve. Not more. For it is to suggest that who we are isn't enough. More often than not only a tiny portion of our many sides pull the significance we are prone to accord attention and admiration, be it our achievements, our trappings or our soul. We put ourselves (and others) at a disservice by choosing to award attention to these tiny bits while remaining blind to the rest of who we are (and who they are). Our decision to strive must be based on ideas that account for our full selves.

Remarkableness is about recognizing our full selves, the parts we love to see and the parts we wish did not exist. In stories we use to define who we are, it is essential to recognize this in our efforts to live.


Post Author: P. W. Uduk 

Photo Sources: eu.fotolia.com; www.fineartamerica.com

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On Being Remarkable