We were not made to stand out
None of us is as the sun – the source of the brightness of day, cursed, so to speak, to burn forever without fail. Giving the earth its heat and without which all flesh must perish.
With what frenzy did the hearts of our ancestors race when their novice eyes first sighted an eclipse of the sun? I would not be surprised if some historian revealed that the religion of the Aztecs, with all the ripped chests and beating hearts in the hands of some priest of blood, had its roots in the shadow cast by the moon on the earth experienced by natives for the first time.
The first time I saw the sun eclipsed in the full brightness of day, I was awed though not afraid (thanks to my Class Teacher). I, however, recall that I was on my way to see a dentist. I was waving down an okadaman when the alignment of the planetary bodies began. The man stopped and asked my destination. As I went on to furnish a descriptive reply, darkness crept slowly upon us. I was not done when he turned on his motorcycle and zoomed off with these words pursuing him closely:
The world is coming to an end
There is no mention of any such frantic amazement or even a latent instinct for it at the putting out of a candle (to say the least) or the death of a star, regardless of the proceeding patch of black darkness which followed the first nor the magnificence of the supernova which attended the other.
Does this concern crowds and being spectacular in any way?
Yes. The crowd is often associated with the bad. As though all good ever done were accomplished by solitary men, and all evil wherever perpetrated were carried out by the people. The hero may be a man or a battalion but I fear we fancy to be the hero than a mere member of the heroic battalion.
What is a man? It is easy to spot the wrongness of the ‘a’ in this question. It is quite unclear what it means compared with the question ‘What is man?’.
A man may be anything but man can only be one thing – man.
Take a twig out of a broom and you may use it for trivial things like beating the wind or grave things like making a sign. You may however not consider it a broom if you had no thought of the bunch of twigs from which it came.
It is difficult to hold the thought of any one man for any length of time without being distracted by the thoughts of other men. If he be a great man, he is so because he did so and so for this or that man or people, or thing which in turn influenced such and such man or people. If he be a tyrant, thoughts of his gruesome treatment of such a man tails all thoughts of him. If he was the first man alive then he began our race; if the last, then behold our finish line.
The crowd may do bad things as a mob – rightly called a disorderly crowd, or it may accomplish great feats as all Israel marching round Jericho trumpeting its walls to a crumble. It is no worse to be one with the crowd than to be a citizen, with all the dignity expressed in a “Romanus civis sum!” Who is a citizen but a member of some named crowd?
On a different note, I fear that all this clamour for standing out, of being spectacular, is either the outcome of a forgetfulness of the spectacular thing that is being a man, or a haughty aspiration to be not-like-the-rest-of-men.
Each man is asked to shine in his field and this is great. What I do not understand is asking each man to live in such a way as to make the outshining of others his point of duty. He must get better, not because of the need to improve but because others may get better than him if he doesn’t.
It is the inescapable end to which insane commercialism drives headlong. Let us innovate and birth new products not because there is any perceived consumer need but because, well, we have to be ahead of our competitors. Profit is the aim, no longer the reward.
This idea of standing out too has found its way into human institutions which were set up to be enjoyed and is gradually stripping them off the joy they once provided.
Sport competitions, for instance. The enjoyable thing in a sport competition lies in the fact that men compete and not necessarily in the triumph of the victor or the dismay of the vanquished. A track event is the more enjoyed if all athletes sprint at top speed and the winner beats the other by a margin. The slimmer the margin the more competitive, the more intense, the more it passes for a joyful pastime.
Picture on the one hand if all the runners in one particular race took this modern advice to the letter and surpassed themselves (as we often hear) and a 100m race is ended in say 5 seconds. No sooner than the blast of the gun and someone is seen beyond the finish line screaming for joy in the full view of confused spectators. This may not be practicable but such a race will go down the annals of history as the fastest ever run, maybe by supermen. But it will not pass for a competition, less so an enjoyable one.
On the other hand, let us allow only one man imbibe the same outdo yourself advice in our hypothetical race and this time only he finishes the race in say 7 seconds while the others come trailing some terrible seconds later. He’d go down as the fastest runner there was and will merit applause from the audience. But the competition will cease to be a competition if such feats are repeated too often.
It is because of the crowd that in fighting competitions, combatants of similar skill or body weight are matched. What is sought is a fight and not a boring beating. One reader of this post may sense a morbid defense of mediocrity in my words but I shall state my stance with the help of a nightly simile.
On any one starry night, a passing view of the brightly lit darkness of the sky reveals a panoply of stars with the moon sitting somewhere beside gazing completely down at us or giving way to a crescent smile. Some stars are brighter than others but the beauty is not in the brightness of this star or that star isolated from the others but in the constellations, in the ‘crowd’ of stars. Men have found interest in Orion and Taurus, Ursa Major and Andromeda even before Galileo stuck his eyes out of our earth through his long magnifying lenses.
Yes, there is Polaris (the North Star) but it is a part of Ursa Minor and let us not make the exception the rule. It will be a blinding thing to be a huge utterly bright star. No one goes into the woods in the heat of the day to have the sun’s oppressing light pour into his eyes. We often wish the day would be as bright with the sun hiding behind some cloud.
Let us not all aspire to be the sun; let us not aspire at all to be the sun. This is not to say we may not aspire to be as bright as the sun. All this because there already is a sun and it is not us, we have our dark corners to lighten up, it is enough to seek it and set out with our brightening task.
As with stars we all have some shining about us but let us be stars capable of burning bright besides other brightly burning stars. If it be our lot that we do not burn from light years away and twinkle like diamonds from up above, but that we, as candles conquer some patch of darkness about us, giving warmth as we burn brightly; then let us burn nobly until all our wax is consumed.
In the end, I do not even think it possible to stand out in the first place. Show me any man who simply stood out and it may just be that he only stepped into the overpopulated crowd of men, like him, who wish to simply stand out.