Mediocrity is relative. You will think of course it is. Mediocrity is a matter of comparison. Or better, mediocrity is a matter of ranking. And mediocrity is a the state of being stuck in the middle. In the film Amadeus, Salieri compares himself to Mozart. Compared to Mozart he felt that he was mediocre. He relates his mediocrity to the ease in which Mozart could compose. That’s because composing came naturally for Mozart. Salieri had to work hard to compose. For an account of Salieri’s work read this. Watch also the fragment of the movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68N0c6WaabE .
The question is: who is mediocre? The music of Salieri – even though he is less known – is worthwhile listening to. He has been the teacher of many composers. He inspired others. He never achieved cult status, that is true. But don’t forget that a genius like Johan Sebastian Bach had been forgotten until Mendelssohn exhumed his work. Today it’s hard to imagine a (musical) world without Bach. And if you would compare composers to Bach, most of them would pale. There is no comparison possible. There is no comparison needed.
What’s the yardstick?
First, what is mediocrity. The definition I find in the dictionary is not satisfactory: “The quality of something that is not very good”. The dictionary mentions the word good. That means there is a judgment. And then the question is: who judges? Is it the best that judge? Is there an absolute yardstick?
Second, the yardstick is changing. What was good half a century ago, is mediocre today. Look at the animation on the right. You are looking at the gold medal winners in vaults. Their performance lies 54 years apart. The woman in the black and white movie would not win today. Her performance would be catalogued as mediocre. Still she was a great gymnast. What’s the difference? Virtuosity. In sports, performing arts, … we have added virtuosity to the equation. So what was excellent in the past, is today mediocre. And the difference is often frivolous virtuosity.
However, you cannot always add virtuosity to every performance. And sometimes virtuosity hides mediocrity. Very often, virtuosity adds no value at all but creates confusion. Excellent people might just focus on the essence, without feeling the need to compare to others. And it’s competition that creates virtuosity. Trying to be better than others, might nudge you towards exaggeration. And if you exaggerate, you become in a way, mediocre.
Another definition of Mediocrity
We need another definition of mediocrity.
Mediocrity is the state in which a person finds himself when he does not use his talent.
I have no judgement about that talent, but I know everyone has some. The mediocrity only comes from not using it. So mediocrity is relative. But the point of comparison lies within ourselves, not outside of ourselves. And yes, sometimes we want to prove how good we are in a competition. But there is only one winner, in a competition. Does that mean that the other participants are mediocre? Absolutely not.
A Matter of choice
Mediocrity is a matter of choice. And it is a matter of perseverance. Someone can decide not to be(come) mediocre, by always trying to do better than before. And even with limitations, there are possibilities as you can learn from this story.
Excellence lies within us. And so does mediocrity.