By Marguerite Theophil
Jun 08, 2014
Some time ago I heard a motivational speaker urging young people to never be ordinary; “Strive to be extraordinary!” he exhorted them. I know he meant well, but I did wonder about this, especially as we find more and more young people making their way through life with a befuddled mix of feeling special, entitled yet frustrated and struggling with issues of self-esteem.
It reminds me of a teaching story about how God plays a joke on every new-born, whispering, ‘You are the special one!’ But the joke quickly wears thin when, as adult, the once new-born starts running up against several billion others on this planet who all assume that they are ‘the special one’.
Striving to be extraordinary naturally involves competition and comparison, winning and losing. But when one doesn’t win there is that awful term applied – loser – if not by others, then by oneself. Working with young people I find many applying this word to anyone less than the best -- while living in dread of it being applied to them!
Let’s Look Into The Preciousness Of Ordinariness Too.
The Chinese sage Lao Tzu in the fifth century, after years of careful observation and meditation compiled a set of ideas about effective leadership. The ‘Tao Te Ching’, which best translates as The Book of How Things Unfold, is addressed to wise leaders, or those that hope to be so, an influential teaching relevant even today; even more so today.
The Tao is a puzzling term, since “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.” Though translated variously as The Path, The Single Principle – it cannot be adequately understood or explained through the rational, discursive mind. Yet it embodies the universal principle that permeates every action and every phenomenon.
In recent times, it spawned many volumes titled the Tao of this, that or the other; some good, some bad. One of the best is John Heider’s The Tao of Leadership. While Lao Tzu wrote mainly for China’s political leaders, Heider transforms it into a more suitable offering for all people who are seeking to understand how best to lead; primarily by being conscious and paying attention, trusting the natural unfolding process, imposing less, inspiring others to become good leaders.
Through each of the eighty one short chapters, we are constantly reminded in different ways that staying aware of what is happening and how things happen, one can respond appropriately, staying clear of trouble, and being both vital and effective.
He urges us to remember: “… you too are a natural process. Being aware of how things happen includes being aware of yourself. Your life unfolds according to the same principle that governs every other unfolding…” And then comes perhaps the most beautiful understanding of ordinariness and extraordinariness one can have: Being like everything else means that you are ordinary. But, consciously knowing that you are like everything else, is extraordinary, too. And knowing how that universality works and having the sense to act accordingly is the source of your power, your endurance, and your excellence.
William Martin in ‘The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents’ says don’t ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Instead, help them to find the wonders and marvels of an ordinary life - the joy of really tasting tomatoes, apples, and pears; the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand; how to cry when pets and people die. Make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.