On Saturday the 12 of April, 2003 my dad and I went to my school (Bishop Cotton Boys’ School, Bangalore) to find out my 9th grade results. My dad entered the classroom as I stood at the entrance. Within a few minutes, he came out carrying no new set of books. A parent coming out of the room empty handed meant only one thing: that the student had failed. And yes, I had failed my 9th grade. We reached home and my mom opened the door and exclaimed, “What happened?” to which my dad replied, “he didn’t pass.” Failure, in most Indian societies, was accompanied with embarrassment and guilt, and so with these emotions I went into my bedroom. I said no word. My parents came in and spoke comforting words but my mind had already frozen by then. I could not believe that I had failed in five out of eleven subjects. The news of my failure was within a few hours passed on to a few of my relatives, and my cousin’s birthday celebration, which was set to take place that evening, was cancelled. I began to wonder what my relatives would say, how would I respond to my friends, and worse, if my then girlfriend, who was a rank holder, would continue dating me. The ‘embarrassment’ of having to shift from an ICSE school to an SSLC (State Board) school loomed large (I did however move to an ICSE school in St. John’s High School, Bangalore). I knew then that I WAS AVERAGE.
I always were an average student; I was never exceptional in academics. Even though I bagged about a dozen prizes during the final year of my Bachelor in Divinity, I continued to have doubts about my own abilities. Was I good enough to make the cut? Perhaps, I won the awards only because others weren’t as good as me, which is largely different from thinking that I won them by being better than the rest (Anyway, those who know me well know that I am not a huge supporter of dishing out awards in a seminary). As I was second-best in my school and college, I often wished to be like others. I was tormented by the competitive spirit that existed in the academia, even more in a seminary—thanks to the capitalist-driven education system in India. There was this need to be “the best” and I just couldn’t be that. I was told that you wouldn’t survive in this world if you weren’t the best. “You can’t be average,” they declared.
A few months ago, I came across a video on YouTube in which the great South African cricketer Gary Kirsten talks about the need to stop glorifying success and achievements and start celebrating average. This hit me hard. Even as I began to think about my own academic journey right from school, I started to take pride in my averageness. Averageness is not a weakness; it does not point to the lack of something. It is not mediocrity. If anything, I see averageness as a resistance to the capitalist notion of greatness, the need to be “the best.” I am not and I will not be. I don’t desire to be the market’s best. By saying this, I don’t mean to say that I or anyone should stop pursuing knowledge and remain stagnant. No! We ought to be the best WE can be—we set the standard for ourselves, not the market.
Today, if I am allowed to have just one message to parents, teachers, and educators, it is to stop burdening children and students with the mission to be the best (my parents did not, but unfortunately my teachers did). Stop comparing their performance with that of others, especially their friends—don’t ruin friendships. Look deep at their skills and talents and help them nurture those. If they are average in academics, embrace it. Don’t beat the living daylights of your children and students. Instill in them the desire to be the best they can be without having to compare their achievements with that of others. Enough, and I mean ENOUGH, of valorizing and eulogizing greatness. If your child is a genius, good. If your child is average, celebrate it.
Seventeen years after experiencing my worst academic year, I sit in my room somewhere in Vermont typing this post under a dim light, overwhelmed to know that I will begin my doctoral program this Fall at Union Theological Seminary, New York. When I began my theological studies in 2010, I would never have imagined pursuing a doctoral program, that too in another country. I know I have taken huge strides in the last decade and I am proud of myself as much as I am grateful to all those who have made me what I am: my parents, family, and professors. I know the world out there is competitive and I know the market demands me to be the best (by selling my theological convictions as a product to be bought and sold). I will do what needs to be done—I will pursue new knowledge, I will move toward actualizing my potential, I will fight to be the best I can be. I will read, I will articulate, I will write, and I will speak, but I will continue to embrace my averageness as an act of resistance. From being embarrassed and ashamed because of my averageness, today I am proud of it. Yes, I AM AVERAGE.
START CELEBRATING AVERAGE.