(Note: This was originally written in August, 2008.)
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. They always have. They always will. Two examples spring to my mind, one real, one not. The first is the fictional one: Remember Dead Poets Society? He challenged the students to make their lives extraordinary. Some did. One kid pushed the limits and his Father pushed back and he killed himself. One rebelled and was kicked out (or so I remember) and the meekest of the bunch was the one that finally, at the end, stood on his desk and said, “Oh, Captain, my Captain!” But what else happened? How many of the kids just went along with the teacher but didn’t meet the challenge to make their lives extraordinary instead of ordinary? And how many of them just stood on their desks at the end because others were doing it?
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. They won’t stand out, they don’t want to stand out, they don’t have the backbone to stand out. They want to be part of their political party and follow a sports team and celebrate when they win, but they don’t want to stand up and take leadership or take the risk of being more than what they are. They want to quietly learn their rhyme and meter and go about the business of achieving other ambitions — but they often don’t have other ambitions, other than getting a job with a good career track and a spouse and the chance to raise a couple of kids and have a divorce because they really weren’t thinking about anything but hot looks when they got married. Most people will NEVER sound their barbaric YAWP over the rooftops of the neighborhood, much less over the rooftops of the world.
At the end of the day, they’ve done their job, worked hard, and want to spend the evening enjoying a well earned rest. (Or spend the evening struggling to get the kids’ homework done and get them off to bed!)
The second example has to do with me and dance. Friends of mine remember I went to a prep school, supposedly one of the best on the East Coast. I learned a lot there, including that I was smart, but a dork, that I should hate myself because I wasn’t cool, and, with the help of the coaches, including the one who called me a physical degenerate in front of the entire 7th grade and on at least one other occasion humiliated me in front of my own class in his Social Studies class. While it started with the students, the teachers and coaches helped me learn, helped teach me, that I was a complete klutz.
I let that define me for years, but there were things I always wanted to do. I never dared to dream I’d be an exceptional dancer, but I always wanted to learn ballroom dance and it was, by chance, a year ago this weekend, that I was at my first ballroom competition. I entered 7 heats in the newcomer’s division and won all 7. Philippe, the other dancer from our studio that rode down and back with me, had a rough ride back. Literally ever 5 minutes I would say, “Damn,” then a pause, then, “Did I really do that?” I was emotionally shocked and it took me a couple months to accept that I had won. (I still feel sorry for Philippe having to put up with that all the way back from Raleigh to Richmond!) But I had and about a month later I did my first showcase dance. (Shown below.)
I had friends that told me they were amazed at that routine. I worked hard, but I didn’t see anything in it that took any special skill, yet I had people tell me, “I wish I could dance like that.” I can watch it and see where I hesitated, where you could tell from my face it was all I could do to remember where my foot went on the next step, much less to remember how to add any style to what I was doing, but still, people kept telling me how they wished they could do that.
The funny thing is that for the 12-14 months before that routine, while I was taking lessons at that studio, I was trying to get friends to come with me and dance with me. Nobody in my circle of friends or family has gone with me to any dance, other than my Mother and sister when they went to watch me. And all these people have still said, “I wish I could do that,” or, “I’d like to learn that.” I pointed out to them that for about a year I had been bugging them to come and dance, but every week, when I was going to beginner’s lessons, they’d say, “I’m too tired, it was a rough day. How about next week?” At the end of the day, they were looking for rest, not recreation. During about 52 of their, “Maybe next week” excuses I learned enough to win those 7 newcomer dances at my first competition and all my friends knew about that accomplishment. And I told them, “The only difference is that when you said, ‘I’m tired, maybe next week,’ I said, ‘I want to do this.'” And after 4 more weeks of that, I did my showcase tango and uploaded it to YouTube so all my friends could see.
Now, granted, ballroom dance is not everyone’s life ambition, but the point is that they would see me dance, see my videos of me in a competition, and see my showcase dances, and say, “I wish I could do that,” and they mean it. They really do want to do it. (Yes, some are just saying it, but some seriously mean it.) And I offer them the chance and, week after week, they say they’re too tired or not up to it or don’t feel like going out. They want to do it, but don’t take the chance. They do not seize the day.
It doesn’t matter what you do or say, or what kind of teachers we have. The mass of men will ALWAYS lead lives of quiet desperation. And I’m okay with that. It lets me rise above the mass and to the top when I compete in ballroom because many of the people that might want to do it, might get excited enough to pursue it, just put off taking that first lesson every night they get a chance. When I pitched to Trek, the producer liked what I was doing and liked my stuff, I just didn’t hit it quite right. But I still had to compete with hundreds of writers trying to break in. I got in to Trek in something like 3 months when it took most writers a year to get either noticed or rejected and I got almost right to the top in who I pitched to. If I had been able to pitch more, I likely could have made it. I once heard David Gerrold complain about what most writers were like in a pitch session and how dense many were and how they didn’t do their research.
Most people do not take the chance to rise up and sound their barbaric yawp. They’re too busy trying to make it through the day, then through until Friday. When I go to a Friday night dance party, I ask people how their week was. Many are thrilled it’s over and like that it went fast. This is 5/7 of their life and they want it to go fast so they can enjoy 2/7 of their life! And these are people that made the effort to go out and learn something new instead of just suffering through each day!
Most people want to be pacified and to make it quietly through life. They don’t want to rise up and, honestly, I have no problem with them being pacified by pablum. If you try to feed them Shakespeare, most will just get bored and go to the underground cock fights instead.
Even if there are people who need and crave power and wealth, if they have any wisdom at all, then they can see there’s no need for an Orwellian police state. There’s no need to spy on people, to silence those few of us who do speak out. Why? Because most people don’t care and never will. They don’t need to be controlled by force, as shown in Brave New World.
Is it wrong to pacify them through TV and other means? Is anyone actually doing that? Is it a plot, or is it just the result of a system where the show that gets the most viewers makes the most money? I say it’s not a conspiracy, just a matter of greed on the part of those who are willing to do something more than be satisfied that they’re tired and don’t want to do more at the end of the day. And the people they’re making money off of are the drones in their lives of quiet desperation.
But this means that those of us who want to think, who want more, don’t have to deal with the masses. We have places we can go for more, for a higher quality form of communication. If we want to rise up, we can. True, it’s getting harder, but we can do it.
All it takes is a willingness to put in a little more effort at the end of the day.