The beauty of the ordinary and the red herring of originality: from Life is a Miracle, by Wendell Berry

“As a norm of expectation or ambition, then, heroic discovery is potentially ruinous, and maybe insane. It is one of the versions of our obsession with ‘getting to the top.’ Unlike the culture of the European Middle Ages, which honored the vocations of the learned teacher, the country parson, and the plowman as well as that of the knight, or the culture of Japan in the Edo period which ranked the farmer and the craftsman above the merchant, our own culture places an absolute premium upon various kinds of stardom. This degrades and impoverishes ordinary life, ordinary work, and ordinary experience. It depreciates and underpays the work of the primary producers of goods, and of the performers of all kinds of essential but unglamorous jobs and duties. The inevitable practical results are that most work is now poorly done; great cultural and natural resources are neglected, wasted, or abused; the land and its creatures are destroyed; and the citizenry is poorly taught, poorly governed, and poorly served.

“Moreover, in education, to place so exclusive an emphasis upon ‘high achievement’ is to lie to one’s students. Versions of Mr. [E.O.] Wilson’s ‘original discovery is everything’ are now commonly handed out in public schools. The goal of education-as-job-training, which is now the dominant pedagogical idea, is a high professional salary. Young people are being told, ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ Every student is given to understand that he or she is being prepared for ‘leadership.’ All of this is a lie. Original discovery is not everything. You don’t, for instance, have to be an original discoverer to be a good science teacher. A high professional salary is not everything. You can’t be anything you want to be; nobody can. Everybody can’t be a leader; not everybody even wants to be. And these lies are not innocent. They lead to disappointment. They lead good young people to think that if they have an ordinary job, if they work with their hands, if they are farmers or housewives or mechanics or carpenters, they are no good.”

Wendell Berry. Life is a Miracle: An Essay against Modern Superstition (Counterpoint: Washington, D.C., 2000) pp. 57-58