I absolutely hate mediocrity, it’s pointless. Mediocrity is the same as stagnation, both bring death. Currently I am dealing a situation in which people are operating in a broken system and completely happy with it. This doesn’t set well with me for three reasons: one, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. This is an immutable law of nature. Two, I have been studying organizational leadership for 18 of my 30 years on earth (I started learning at age twelve, when my parents forced me to start reading John Maxwell after I led a failed playground revolt that nearly got me kicked out of Sunday school), and spebt five in JROTC and ROTC. Three, the parties that advise this ill-conceived project, refuse to get involved and dismiss my concerns by saying ”this is China” (which essentially means that they acknowledge how F&*%ed up the situation is and that they have no intention of doing anything about it).
Unfortunately, mediocrity rears its ugly head in every aspect of life, the most insidious of which is spiritual mediocrity. I was talking to a student at school the other day and he told me that for his required essay he was writing about the importance of attending church as a child. It is nice sentiment, but this student told me recently, that he didn’t actually believe in God. The problem evident here is that too often, we get caught up in saying the right words rather than the heart change that becoming a Christian should signal.
I know this true, because I grew up just drinking the Kool-Aid, I didn’t actually believe in God, in fact I hated him. I knew all the songs, I prayed the right prayers, I fell down when people prayed (I was raised in the Pentecostal church), and said “God is good all the time”, all the time ( this was in spite of the fact that one, I didn’t believe in God and , two, Things weren’t good my parents were constantly fighting and my dad was abusive). I was living a broken system and completely okay with it.
I was 15 when I finally became a Christian, the broken system wasn’t working for me any more, and I realized it would take more than just acting right to fix my life.
My point here is that is that it comes down to being more than words. John Yoder, one of the pastors at BICF (Beijing International Christian Fellowship), where I go to church, said last Sunday that “praying a prayer doesn’t make you a Christian”. I thought about this for a long while, I like many other Christians , erroneously believed that what made me a Christian was the prayer I prayed. Wrong. What made me a Christian was the faith that I have that God is who he says he is and that Jesus died for my sins.
I think in life, we (Christians and non-Christians alike) get got up in appearance. China is country that is all about appearance and looking good in spite of the fact that either aren’t as great as the mask you wear, or that you actually have no idea what you are doing. This is actually a cultural concept here, called face. We in this West talk about “saving face” sometimes, but we have no idea what it actually means. Face is basically (in a completely Western nutshell, the real concept is super hard to understand) not doing anything that sets you outside the status quo or brings shame or embarrassment. As a teacher I have seen the insidious side of “saving face”, I have had parents and students try to bribe me so that their student wouldn’t fill an exam and shame them by under preforming. I once caught an entire copying one kids homework, so that they could all pass (unfortunately, I think he was the dumbest kid class because all his answers were wrong).
We get into this “fake til you make it” mentality, when we decide that we would rather do what’s easy rather than tackle the real challenges. Yes it’s hard sometimes, but pain brings growth. Growing up, I loved the old movie called “Teahouse of the August Moon”, it’s a ridiculous comedy about post-WWII Okinawa (Marlon Brando plays a Japanese guy), there was a line spoken by Brando’s character: “Pain makes man think, thought makes man wise, and wisdom makes life endurable”. Even at 8 years-old, I liked that quote. To me it means that if we aren’t faking it, it’s going to hurt, but there will be a reward in the end. That reward may not seem like much to us in modern society, wisdom isn’t sexy or popular (case in point the Kardashians and the rise of YOLO culture). We would rather fit in, fake it, and stagnate, rather than cause a disruption and thrive.
When I was living in Changsha, I got to the point where I was faking it. I did what everybody else did: I halfassedly prepared for classes, I went to class late, I bitched about my classes and students every chance, and I drank at the end of the day to dull the nagging sense that I wasn’t doing a damn thing. Then reality pimp slapped me in the face, I realized that I was seeking to write about my life in China, and I wasn’t living anything worth reading. I realized that people don’t read books about people who survive, they read books about people who thrive.
I did the only thing you can do when you realize that faking it isn’t enough, I got off my ass, stopped whining, and tried to find a way to live a story writing. The six months that followed were some of the most rewarding times I ever experienced. I starting living in Changsha, meaning that up to that point I had largely avoided the things that cared me about living in China: I stopped eating at Macdonald’s and KFC, and started eating in Chinese restaurants; I started learning the language; I engaged the people around me, and ended up making some great friends. In the end, I ended up having experiences I never thought I would: I got inked; I wrote for the school magazine, I was local T.V. numerous times, and I become the xiongdi (essentially adopted brother) of the Vice-mayor of a small town in Hunan.
I’m not saying it’s easy, or that the results are always good, but when you stop faking it and start living, even the bad isn’t so bad (and it makes for great writing. We have to get to the point where we realize, that if we fake it, we’ll never make it.