Being Average – Sunday Clippings #10

Hello there,

This week’s blog posts are A Good Definition on what makes a definition efficient and valuable for the audience and a list of Completed Proverbs by Lisle de Vaux Matthewman. Moving on to the newsletter now.

This issue is inspired by one of the poems I recently read called “To the Average Men” by Wallace Irwin. Wallace is known for his clever and humorous writing and this was the first poem in his book called Random rhymes and odd numbers. It describes the life of an average man, with average circumstances, average expectations and average results.

In this poem, he goes from writing:
“Statistics declare that the Average Man
Finds the Average Woman and mates;
That the Average Family, children all told,
Is something like two and three-eights.
(Though fractional children disturb and appal,
The Average Man isn’t worried at all.)”

to “But deep in the breast of the Average Man
The passions of ages are swirled,
And the loves and the hates of the Average Man
Are old as the heart of the world
For the thought of the Race, as we live and we die,
Is in keeping the Man and the Average high.”

I believe that there are two opinions on this. There’s a set of people who feels that being average makes you happier and more grateful as Wallace writes in most of this poem. It keeps you stress-free as you’re mediocre in everything and aren’t setting unrealistic standards for yourself.

The other point of view is more common – Being average restricts you and deprives you of the greater things you want to achieve. Being average makes your life boring and makes you less ambitious as you start settling with the result you get. I recently overheard someone say, “Aim for higher than you want, this way you’ll be able to at least get what you want.”

I understand both the viewpoints here and there’s a considerable amount of evidence to support both of them. Some studies even suggest that the ‘Better than Average Effect’ is observed because “average” is often construed as the below-median ability:

“[..]when assessing self-enhancement bias in comparative judgments of ability, it is important to ascertain how the judges interpret “average ability” and accordingly interpret the results with caution. When asked to compare their ability to an average person, some people may not grasp the intended meaning of the comparison target (e.g., median ability). Indeed, as studies have shown, when people are asked to compare their abilities to those of a vivid and specific, rather than general, comparison target.”

In my opinion – no one is completely average. The ‘average man’ Wallace describes in this poem doesn’t actually exist. It depends on the choices you make and how you measure being “average”. Choosing mediocrity is restrictive as you’re choosing to remain stagnant. There’s always a difference between who you are and who you want to be.

Have a great week,

This Week’s Clippings

1 – Blog Post – I really liked Paul Graham’s essay on having a project of your own which is fun as well as productive. He writes about how we differentiate “work” and “hobby” and how it impacts our productivity negatively. Here’s an interesting clipping:

“If your projects are the kind that make money, it’s easy to work on them. It’s harder when they’re not. And the hardest part, usually, is morale. That’s where adults have it harder than kids. Kids just plunge in and build their treehouse without worrying about whether they’re wasting their time, or how it compares to other treehouses. And frankly we could learn a lot from kids here. The high standards most grownups have for “real” work do not always serve us well.”

2 – Research Article – This paper on how active learning increases student performance from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that lecture learning is extremely inefficient. Continuous exposition by the teacher where the students are supposed to take notes and occasionally ask questions is not useful at all. It’s not only boring but is also bad for exam preparation. Active learning methods such as discussions, role-plays and problem-solving seem to be the ideal way to go:

“The data reported here indicate that active learning increases examination performance by just under half a SD and that lecturing increases failure rates by 55%. The heterogeneity analyses indicate that (i) these increases in achievement hold across all of the STEM disciplines and occur in all class sizes, course types, and course levels; and (ii) active learning is particularly beneficial in small classes and at increasing performance on concept inventories.”

3 – Video – I’m attempting to learn how to use the computer more efficiently. A big part of being comfortable with technical devices involves learning the keyboard shortcut for things you do on a frequent basis. Earlier this week I was trying to learn some of these keyboard shortcuts. This video in particular was quite useful. I don’t know how many of them will stick with me but they’re absolute game-changers that save your time once you get a hang of them.

(This is an issue of the “Sunday Clippings”. Every week I compile various valuable ideas, learnings, along with my highlights from interesting articles, books and podcasts in a short and skimmable email newsletter. Sign up here to get future issues delivered directly to your inbox!)