March 27, 2017

"What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life?"/"What if I all I want is a small, slow, simple life?"

Now, there's some headline to first line slippage.

The headline is good clickbait, but it sets up an argument that the author — Krista O'Reilly Davi-Digui — never makes. What's mediocre about a small, slow, simple life? Many people would say that the life described in the essay is the essential, most beautiful human life, centered on the real, immediate world of home and family.

The word "mediocre" does appear in the essay, but only to describe relatively unimportant aspects of the small, slow, simple life. Her body is mediocre. She might be a "mediocre home manager" in that she "rarely dusts," sometimes orders pizza, and has some messy "areas" in her house.

The alternative to the small, slow, simple life she likes certainly doesn't sound less "mediocre." ("Mediocre" means "Of middling quality; neither bad nor good, average; (hence contextually) indifferent, of poor quality, second-rate" OED.) O'Reilly Davi-Digui's alternative is "to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count."

I mean, I want to hear more critique of the ethic of achievement that is so dominant these days. You know me, I'm still hearing echoes of a Be-In that took place half a century ago. There's a ridiculous demand for careerism these days, and young people should only take the part of it that works for them and fits their values. Take care to identify which values are really yours and have the courage and commitment to go there. Don't call that "mediocre."

This subject made me want to reread one of my favorite poems, "Ode on Solitude," by Alexander Pope:
Happy the man, whose wish and care
   A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
                            In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
   Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
                            In winter fire.

Blest, who can unconcernedly find
   Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
                            Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
   Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please,
                            With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
   Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
                            Tell where I lie.

40 comments:

traditionalguy said...

She needs to practice her golf swing, and finally the good life will be hers.

Karen of Texas said...

Less is more.

To some, that would seem like a mediocre way to live. To others, they figure out it can open so many other doors.

Darrell said...

It's called the simple life. Even if there is more manual labor involved.

Fernandinande said...

"I am a Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant™ & Joyful Living Educator. My mission is to help you live an UNSHACKLED life of purpose, health & JOY."

Lance said...

There's a ridiculous demand for careerism these days

You need to hang out with more NASCAR/NRA/MAGA types.

YoungHegelian said...

O'Reilly Davi-Digui's alternative is "to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count."

Notably absent from that list is the explicit desire for a virtuous life, a life of service to others. If she were a religious person of some sort that would mean living her life centered around her God, but one doesn't have to be religious to see the world that way. All the ancient moral philosophers saw a life of virtue as man's highest end. Yet for this woman, it's not even on the list.

How shallow we have become!

Meade said...

I could be content living the simple life somewhere in southern Utah. One thing I would need: my wife. And of course my wife would need her wifi. Bliss.

Donald Douglas said...

The modest life, the life of home and family, living in security and comfort, would be the "mediocre" life for me. I'm almost at that place in my life. And I see it down the tunnel each day, as I get closer. (I've got to get my kids set up, to where they feel happy and comfortable, before my "mediocre" life comes closer into view.)

Roger Sweeny said...

An older meaning of mediocre was indeed "middling"--like middle. It did not have the modern meaning of "low quality" "less than it should be."

ALP said...

You made my day Ann, especially addressing the "mediocrity" aspect of the essay. The corporate careerism of modern feminism is especially saddening, trading in being "owned" by a man to being "owned" by the corporation you work for.

ALP said...

I am also stuck on my dumb phone, one of the last people in the US to cross over into having a computer with me everywhere I go. If my life got complicated enough that I found myself needing dozens of apps and a smart phone, my life has gotten way too complicated.

Rosa Marie Yoder said...

309.

The number of days before this woman embraces the "mediocre life"

May retirement be slow and simple, far away from those who find it to be mediocre.

William said...

I had to work hard to achieve mediocrity. It wasn't something I was born with. It was an aspiration. Now it's effortless.......if you wish to live by the side of the road and be a friend to all mankind, choose your road wisely. Real estate by the side of the better roads is expensive. You have to work and save for years to live there. Well, exhaustion is a form of tranquility.

Henry said...

I mean, I want to hear more critique of the ethic of achievement that is so dominant these days

It's all been written. Lao Tzu. Chang Tzu. Mediocrity = middling = the middle way.

Chang Tzu, translated by Thomas Merton: Those who are caught in the machinery of power take no joy except in activity and change—the whirring of the machine! Whenever an occasion for action presents itself, they are compelled to act; they cannot help themselves. They are inexorably moved, like the machine of which they are a part.

In similar fashion, the poet Mary Oliver describes Walt Whitman's character as the most normal kind of joy:

Whitman was not after madness nor even recklessness, but the tranquility of affinity and function. He was after a joyfulness, a belief in existence in which man’s inner light is neither rare nor elite, but godly and common, and acknowledged.

Ann Althouse said...

@Fernandinande

Thanks for that.

A tad achievement-y, no?

Inga said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Althouse said...

"I could be content living the simple life somewhere in southern Utah. One thing I would need: my wife. And of course my wife would need her wifi. Bliss."

What is simpler than staying where you already are?

Meade said...

"Below are a few criteria of mingei art and crafts:
*made by anonymous crafts people
*produced by hand in quantity
*inexpensive
*used by the masses
*functional in daily life
*representative of the region in which it was produced.
"

Rick said...

In theory it's a fine choice more people should consider. But our country's experience is that those who choose to sacrifice less time and effort for material satisfaction will eventually demand that material satisfaction from the political process.

Bob Boyd said...

While she's simplifying, Krista could cut the number of last names she's sportin' by about two thirds.

BJM said...

Now that my friends and I have reached retirement age many are energetically pursuing new careers based on hobbies and interests or incessantly travel.

Having finally escaped the hamster wheel which required a great deal of travelling, I read, nap in the shade of a 200 yr old oak while hawks circle in the thermals overhead and tend my garden, both literally and metaphorically.

Ever the optimist, I've planted a small grove of Chardonnay grapes, fruit and olive trees. I may take a Master Gardener course but that's the sum of my post-retirement agenda.

Inga said...

I wonder why some people need the permission of a life coach to live the life they want. When I hear the term life coach I always wonder what gives them the expertise to tell others how to live the lives they want? Kind of silly, just do it, or don't and be content then with what you have.

I know professional women with children who would like nothing better than to stay at home, but can't due to financial constraints, student loan repayment being a big hurdle. On the other hand I know women who who stay and home and can't wait to get back to their professional lives, but feel mommy guilt. Sometimes you just don't get the life you want when you want it.

That'll be $50.

Freeman Hunt said...

I agree. I read this a few days ago and thought it didn't sound mediocre at all.

Skeptical Voter said...

She worries too much. She talks too much. Navel gazing is never attractive.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Meade said...

I could be content living the simple life somewhere in southern Utah. One thing I would need: my wife. And of course...* Bliss.

It's nice to be needed.

*edited for clarity.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

BJM said...

...I... nap in the shade of a 200 yr old oak while hawks circle in the thermals overhead and tend my garden...

Wow. How did you manage to train the hawks to tend your garden?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

She worries too much. She talks too much. Navel gazing is never attractive.

True. Part of the success of living a middling or mediocre life is not thinking much about it or caring what other people think about it.

mockturtle said...

As you point out, the writer clearly doesn't understand the definition of the word.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

I want to put this in a category: "the unexamined mediocre life is not worth living".

Lots of people lead mediocre lives and not by choice. What is being touted here is a stylized mediocrity that is served up as a luxury good.

tcrosse said...

What is being touted here is a stylized mediocrity that is served up as a luxury good.
Well, there is a hint of Marie Antoinette to it.

n.n said...

That too can be tolerated, but expect a return proportional to investment.

wild chicken said...

Huh, I lean toward southern Utah too. And I never even took in the parks. But I kinda liked st George. First went through in 1968 before i-15 was finished. Dry weather, not much snow.

Seems like the world has discovered the place now.

mockturtle said...

As Salieri put it, in Amadeus, Mediocrities

roseman said...

While in basic training at Ft Ord in 1962, we met a corporal assigned to our company who came off as very bright, with the presence and bearing of an officer, quite a step above his NCO rank. We queried him as to why he wasn't a commissioned officer. He responded, he "was just looking for a place in the shade, not a place in the sun. 3 squares a day, a bunk and a shower, little real responsibility, just follow orders." he was happy and content.

Rex said...

There's also Robert Green (c. 1558-1592):

Sweet are the thoughts that savor of content,
The quiet mind is richer than a crown:
Sweet are the nights in careless slumber spent,
The poor estate scorns fortune's angry frown:
Such sweet content, such minds, such sleep, such bliss
Beggars enjoy, when Princes oft do miss.
The homely house that harbors quiet rest,
The cottage that affords no pride, nor care:
The mean that 'grees with Country music best,
The sweet consort of mirth and music's fare:
Obscured life sets down a type of bliss,
A mind content both crown and kingdom is.

Birches said...

Ugh. One of those SAHM affirming articles that exists for fb sharing. I hate them. This article follows the formula perfectly. Honestly, I don't understand why some people need to be constantly praised for their choices. Is it low self-esteem? I don't get it.

michaele said...

How odd...she is wearing semi high heels for her simple walk along a simple rural path.

virgil xenophon said...

People could learn from the denizens of New Orleans, the "Big Easy" aka the city of "GET BY." Yes, spend 10 seconds in New Orleans and it is IMMEDIATELY obvious that's what the VAST maj of the good citizens of the Crescent City aspire to: to just "get by." And they manage to do so effortlessly and with great joy and aplomb. A stylized mediocrity served up as a luxury good is New Orleans thru and thru..

William said...

I read some of that article but didn't get too far. The term "humble bragging" was invented for that article. The author thinly cloaked world-class virtual signalling in her supposedly "mediocre" life.

BJM said...

@Ignorance is Bliss

Wow. How did you manage to train the hawks to tend your garden?

Very carefully.