Emotional Mediorcrity

The phrase Emotional Mediorcrity recently popped into my mind when I was in session with a client who commented on my inaugural blog post. I’ve been seeing this client for many years but still couldn’t quite get a read on where he was going with his comment as he was oscillating between two related topics. Finally he said that my brief post had struck a nerve with him and that the concept of authenticity really made him stop and think. “I asked myself,” he said, “am I consistently putting forth some false front that is only a sliver of who I am?” The direction of this session delighted me because in that moment I felt this great connection to someone who was beginning to delve deeply into the idea of authenticity and how our relationships so often reflect that concept.

One hundred sixty years ago, Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Yet here we are, comfortably ensconced in the twenty-first century and I might suggest that this rings considerably more true now.

Even with countless self-help books, EST, seminars of all stripes, spiritual journeys, LSD, yoga, psychotherapy, etc… so many around us are leading lives of Emotional Mediocrity. It is true that we have brought down so many barriers to what was once considered conversations better left undiscussed, talking about our sex lives and financial situations over organic lunches and dinners. But who really knows us? Who really knows the essence of what, as is said, makes us tick? We all put forth masks, professional, social, etc… but in our harried lives of over scheduled movement from task to task, activity to activity, consistently switching one mask for another, I ask again, who knows us? Do we even know ourselves anymore? Is Emotional Mediocrity present even when we’re alone?

When I was a kid I had this seemingly incredible baby sitter. It was called television and it hit me once, in graduate school, that so many of the references I made were from my baby sitter. I remember a commercial, I think maybe for Pledge, that talked about waxy yellow build-up on wood furniture. Are we humans not just like that coffee table, covered in layers and layers of build-up and not even realizing that we can no longer see the shine of our inherent beauty, our purest essence, like the grain in a classic piece of furniture? Just what are we hiding and from whom are we hiding it? What is it about being ourselves, being human, even one with flaws, that is so, at times, distasteful that we’d rather settle for Emotional Mediocrity as opposed to the full expression of our humanity, our uniqueness? That is not to suggest that we spill our guts to anyone and everyone who happens to inquire how we’re doing. Sometimes it makes sense to simply say we’re well and move on. But from time to time, especially to those whom we consider close, go ahead and take the plunge, tell them how you really feel, what’s really going. Chances are it’ll feel pretty good to shed the cloak of mediocrity.

Synthetic Lives

If you’ve ever been in psychotherapy, taken a yoga class, meditated, or engaged in just about any kind of spiritual endeavor, you’ve no doubt encountered the concept of living an authentic life. It sounds great, living an authentic life. It has the unmasked scent of purity, decency and, perhaps most of all, that often elusive quality…happiness. But just what does it mean, living an authentic life? Are we all trapped in a false existence, toiling away at meaningless careers when we’d rather be stringing beads together into one-of-a-kind treasures and selling them at the local arts and crafts show? Or growing organic fruit to make artisanal jam? Would we all rather be living on a beach somewhere, or up in the mountains, writing the next great American novel rather than in our comfortable homes in the city? Perhaps. Someone once said to me that most fantasies make for a lousy reality which may be why most of us will not leave our jobs to make jewelry or jam, or move to a remote beach shack or mountain cabin to write in solitude. Nevertheless, as enticing as they may be, are those existences any more authentic than the ones most of us currently lead? That’s open for debate. So rather than debate the highly unique qualities of just what might make for an authentic life, let’s examine one aspect of our lives that just might make it a bit synthetic.

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but how much face-to-face interaction did you have with other people today? Could you quantify it in minutes?

Hours? Was there eye contact? What about telephone conversations? Now, how much time did you spend online? Emailing? Facebooking? I recently saw a New Yorker style cartoon depicting a funeral with rows of empty chairs and two people talking at the back of the room. In the caption one was saying to the other, “I’m surprised there aren’t more people here. He had 2000 Facebook friends.” Exclusively putting our best face forward on a social network site, propagating the notion that our lives are perfect, is synthetic. Conversely, so is using social media as a means of on-going griping. But having a few good friends who know us inside and out, our joys and our sorrows…that’s real. That’s authentic.

As some of my friends and acquaintances know I’m not a fan of certain applications of social networking which may make me a relic but I’m also a realist. I don’t think most people want to see the pictures of what I did this weekend anymore than I want to see theirs. Now, if they’re particularly compelling that’s one thing like weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, even birthday parties. That’s ok. I’m off to the gym now…come on. I suppose social networking has it’s place, promoting our wares and our businesses, getting the word out en masse about a particular event, but as a primary means of connection it’s the height of synthetic. We need to see each other’s faces, hear each other’s voices, hug and hold each other. Authenticity lies in our ability to fully connect..with others as well as with ourselves.