On Being Remarkable

The Remarkableness of Being Unremarkable

Striving for more has become one of the central tenets guiding the modern world. It is an idea we are inclined to engage in hope of affording ourselves a certain kind of life: the kind which pulls admiration from others and leaves us with a tell-tag that reads truly remarkable. 

But it's needful to ponder over one paradoxical implication of our hopes for remarkableness: that we are remarkably unremarkable  for aspirations only arise from a place of where what is aspired for is lacking. This paradox can be a source of discomfort. So much that sensing the lack it points to in our lives becomes akin to sensing a grotesque deformity.

The reason for our distaste is telling but we dismiss this reason to dispel the displeasure of identifying with being unremarkable. At the heart of what drives us becomes a need to do everything we can to not be unremarkable. We think that to succeed at this will accord us the proper title we deserve: human being, the person worthy of dignity.

Yet to be seduced by this rhetoric is to ignore an important idea: every life is of equal value; everyone is remarkable.

The Roman Catholic Church has, traditionally, spoken about our remarkable nature. One of its central ideas has been the existence of a precious entity, a spark of divinity, present in all of us: the soul. According to this idea, each of us is animated by a soul, and depending on the kind of life we lead, our soul will re-join the host of heavens in its rightful divine place, when our bodies give way through wear out from use and/or old age.

However, the implication of this catholic idea, that everyone is remarkable, is that everyone is, by a humbling stroke of logic, unremarkable as well. Tellingly, the Roman Catholic Church addresses this implication. Once a year, in its ceremony of Ash Wednesday, the church reminds its members: "we are nothing but dust, and unto dust shall we return", while crossing their foreheads with ash; a reminder of their unremarkable nature. This less-then-sexy implication is important to us because it offers us perspective. It brings to mind that in a era where the message is to stand-out at all cost, present your best selves and do whatever it takes to garner attention grabbing likes, we are striving for a reality that only exists in our heads.

 An Imagined Reality 

One of the ways we separate what works and what is best avoided is to look to what others are doing. Broadly speaking, we think in terms of, what kills John is likely to kill the rest of us, and what keeps Jude healthy is likely to keep the rest of us healthy. History shows how we learned to depend on one another for bits of knowledge to survive. For much of this history, people looked to institutions to accord them guidance. The Church, Universities, the government and a host of others stood, and still stand, as pillars responsible for weaving intricate narratives of what works and what is best avoided.

A narrative that permeate the modern world goes like this: everyone is destined to do the extraordinary. It only takes the Grace of God. Those who have failed to see the extraordinary in their life, this narrative implies, lack the Grace of God (because they are not engaged in doing the extraordinary). However, unlike its traditional counterpart which suggested life as a duality of the remarkable and the unremarkable, this narrative suggests only those who have performed extraordinary feats can be called remarkable; they alone have the grace of god; they alone have the true spark of divinity.

It's tempting to argue that this is simply a narrative, and as such people can determine its validity for themselves, but this is wishful thinking at best and at worst a kind of thinking that allows for the generation of inadequate representations of self-image and self-worth in people. In truth, the narrative has become a collective agreement. Listen to the girl who renders a church testimony saying despite not reading a leaf of book prayers from pastor Charles imbued her with the grace of God to ace her exam, she buys into the narrative. Study the man who advises his business mentee to aspire to become the next Mark Zuckerberg, he buys into the narrative. Watch the woman who leaves her "regular" job to pursue her career dreams without careful consideration, she buys into the narrative. 

A mass scale collective agreement of a narrative turns it into an imagined reality. Yuval Harari tells us what an imagined reality is in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Quote:

The kinds of things that people create through [.] network of stories are known in academic circles as ‘fictions’, ‘social constructs’, or ‘imagined realities’. 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.” 

Before we get into the exercise of justifying the validity of our deformities, we are better off taking account of narratives we buy into and examining their validity. The idea of a remarkable human being depends heavily on context, the imagined reality. An examination of the context, irrespective of the kind, usually reveals that only a portion of person in view pulls the worth of attention accorded to him by others. We put him at a disservice by choosing to remain blind to the rest him. And in the same vain we put those who fail (and in most cases don't care) to pull significant worth of attention  at a disservice by choosing to remain blind to the rest who they are.

Defining Remarkableness

A good life is the fruit of ample dedication to worthy causes. However, it is easy to fall prey to vague definitions of such endeavours. At first blush our instincts may suggest, that given all the lies, the imagined realities, we abandon our efforts and nurse an indifference towards the pursuit of excellence. But this is to pay ill-service to the point. The key to remarkableness isn't to get passionate about it or to harbour indifference towards it, is it to be at peace with ones unremarkable nature. To understand that we are at liberty to write and rewrite our own definitions, and that regardless of our definitions (be it attention grabbing likes, or the lack of it)  life will continue its course. 


Post Author: P. W. Uduk 

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

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