Greatness

I wrote this a little while ago, but it does seem rather appropriate to post on election day, even if it is only a provincial election. I know I’m hoping to dodge another federal election for at least a couple of years, and I’d kinda like to get this one out a bit before that.

It’s not about having greatness thrust upon you. I read somewhere that part of the reason that nothing is likely to change in the near future with our society is that we read. We have been reading the various regurgitations of ancient myths where the hero doesn’t particularly want to rock the boat. They don’t want to rock the boat, but they’re the chosen one, so they in a sense haven’t got a choice.

You see this all over fiction of varying genres, though arguably mostly in sci-fi and fantasy. Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials. The protagonist, the hero(ine), is always some sort of chosen one. There’s something special about them, and they’re the only one who can possibly save the world.

To some extent, the argument goes, this shows up in our real life as well, when we’re confronted with various challenges, troubles of epic proportions, we’re waiting for the chosen one to step up.

But let’s face it, the folks who are stepping up (my mind jumps immediately to the old white guys who keep winding up in leadership races) are definitely not the chosen ones. I’d say that I’d eat my hat if they were, but for one thing I’ve got no way of actually determining how one gets “chosen”, and for another, I haven’t got a hat that I’d really be prepared to eat if I were wrong. So I’ll go with, if these guys are the “chosen ones” to fight the forces of evil, we are so cosmically screwed in such an enormous way that I think throwing my hat in with the forces of evil might be the most sensible decision.

Confession time: I read this article (that I can’t remember the name of, or who wrote it, or anything right now, so if somebody knows it and can send me a link, that would be fabulous and I’ll happily credit whoever came up with this idea) and it was like looking in a mirror. I have been waiting for somebody to tell me I’m special for my entire life. In some way, I think we all have. Now, I’m not going to make this about my parents, because it’s not about them, it’s about society, I promise.

I used to watch the little interviews that they put on TV Ontario with kids who were doing awesome things, I seem to remember one in particular that was a kid who could tap dance and play the fiddle simultaneously. Generally, the ones I remember were musical prodigies of one sort or another. It’s possible that these ones stuck because I have never been able to play an instrument. No, I don’t count Guitar Hero as an instrument, though I’m not very good at that either.

The major commonality between these different kids with awesome skills was that they’d started them while most of us were still baffled by the idea that some day we might be able to tie our own shoes. They’d started music lessons, or dance lessons, or playing competitive sports before they’d started kindergarten.

Without fail, these kids made me feel like a failure. More than that, though, they made me feel like I’d missed my chance to be awesome at something because my parents hadn’t put me in dance/music/sports before I could reliably walk under my own power. These kids were the chosen ones, and I just wasn’t. I was condemned to a life of mediocrity by the time I’d lost my first tooth.

Bear with me while I fast forward 15 years. Lots of stuff happened, lots of really awesome stuff, some not so awesome, but that’s life. I’d moved away to university, then away to England on a student exchange, and shortly after I turned twenty, I put a couple of changes of clothes into an orange backpack and traveled to eight European cities in seven countries over three weeks.

Now, nobody told me that I should, ought to, or had to do any of those things. I did them because I really —really— wanted to. It was only when I got back from this trip and my mother said she couldn’t have fathomed doing something like that alone at my age, that I realized that I have got something special. My good friend Phil calls it being a modern-day-adventuress, my good friend Jen calls it crazy, but it’s special in any event. This drive I have to do things isn’t (apparently) something that happens to everyone.

So, little detour aside, back to five-year-old me, condemned to mediocrity because nobody forced me into dance lessons.

Wait…

I haven’t had a mediocre life. In spite of the predictions of my five-year-old self. In spite of the fact that nobody told me I had to go out and see the world.

Apparently you don’t need the THREAT OF EPIC DOOM and some wacky prophecy to do awesome things.

Now extrapolating this to the population as a whole, doing amazing things is not about prophecy, it’s not about being a chosen one, and it’s not about being forced into dance lessons before the ripe old age of four. It’s not about having greatness thrust upon you, it’s not about being born great. It’s about getting off your ass and seizing greatness from those who keep it from you.

In absolute fairness, there are a lot of people out there who are doing more awesome and more important things than I am. There are people I know who are really rocking the world. All I was doing was seeing it, because that’s what I really wanted to do. I’m in the process of shifting gears slightly, because it’s stopped being enough for me to just see the world, I want to make a difference in it. But the building blocks are the same, choosing something I really want to do, and doing it.

I’m still working on this on a micro level, but as a society, isn’t it about time we dispense with the prophecies and chosen ones and realize that what it takes may be just what we’ve got?

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