Pause for Thought: BBC Radio 2 Feb 5th 2008
I wanted to ask you what sort of a day you had yesterday. After all, today is ‘Super Tuesday’ for our American cousins, and at the weekend, that annual over-the-top sporting occasion, the Superbowl took place on what they call Super Sunday. But yesterday, as far as I know, wasn’t super for any particular reason, though I hope you had a good Monday nonetheless.
Americans have always been good at making things super, seem larger than they really are. A few years ago I was at a Californian summer camp. Before the children arrived, there was a staff talent show at which one of the counselors sang a song accompanied by his own guitar playing. It was atrocious – but everyone applauded and told him it was truly awesome. Over the next few days I discovered that anything that anyone did or said was truly awesome, no matter how mediocre it was. So I asked my American colleagues what they would say if something actually was truly awesome – surely they had used up all the superlatives. Then a fellow Brit and I worked out a scale of excellence beginning with pretty average and working slowly upwards. Needless to say, the Americans thought this idea was truly awesome.
But that’s the American way. On our very own Celebrity Come Dancing, judges like Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli offer critical observations and marks that reflect the performances they see, but when it comes to the American version – Dancing with the Stars – they both join the hysterical shouting of ‘TEN!’ that greets every offering, good, bad or otherwise.
I think we need to know that we can’t always be good at everything and that to acknowledge our shortcomings is as important as recognising what we’re genuinely good at.
The rabbis of two thousand years ago asked ‘who is wise?’ and answered their question ‘someone who learns from everyone.’ That means that constructive criticism must be better for us than being told that everything we do is truly awesome or super. And they also asked ‘who is wealthy?’ and decided that true wealth belongs to anyone who is satisfied with what they have.
In an age that seeks to shower itself with ever more superlatives, this is an important lesson to learn. Always striving for more makes us weary and dissatisfied. Today really doesn’t have to be a super Tuesday. A pretty average Tuesday – with or without pancakes – will do just fine, thank you very much.
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