Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Top of the Bell Curve

     I was bowling the other day, Company, as I often do in an attempt to stay grounded and keep in touch with the proletariat.  We were having our holiday celebration, and as part of the festivities, the bowling alley management were giving away prizes for the person who gets the most pins over their average, and the person who gets the most pins below their average.  Well, I am not a great bowler, so I was excited by this.  I am thinking "Now there is a prize that I can actually win.  I bowl way below my average almost all the time."  So what did I do?  Bask in glory? Bask in sheer, unadulterated ineptitude?  Nope.  I bowled almost exactly my average.
The infamous bell curve
     But that is the idea, right?  There is a reason why it is called me average - because that is what I usually bowl.  It sits right at the top of the classic bell curve.  The bell curve that is representative of so many things and used to determine so many things.  But regardless of what you think of it, the premise is actually pretty simple.  The idea is that the things that happen at either end of the bell curve are rarities, usually something really good or something really bad.  The middle of the bell is the highest part because that is where the largest potion of the sample should fall.  So why is it then that the middle part seems to be the part that is considered the worst to be in?
     Think about it.  There is a book on the shelf that I put in my living room and fill with books to impress people called Last in Their Class which is all about the people who fell on the far left side of the curve while they were at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point but whom decided to skip the entire middle portion of the bell curve and go straight to the right side once they got out.  Here are a bunch of guys who were certifiably the worst in their college class.  Dead last.  Bottom of the list.  As far left on the bell curve as one can get.  Yet here they are idolized in a book that is on a shelf meant to impress.  As far as I can tell, there is no literature about people who have finished in the middle of their class at any institution.
The South Park goth kids think you are a conformist.
      Let's tackle this a different way.  Being totally average and normal is often derided in our society.  Ask any of these kids and I am sure that you will hear the word "conformist" uttered in contempt.  What about the movie Office Space?  The entire movie is based on derision of those who are either normal and average within the soulless corporate office setting or those who strive to be.  Maybe it is just the media that sets this stuff up but I have one more example.  In the television show Community, a barrage of comparisons is used to make someone feel bad because they are totally and completely average, or at least that is the premise:

      You're average, Britta Perry. You're every kid on the playground who didn't get picked on.  You're a business casual potted plant; a human whites sale.  You're VH1, RoboCop 2, and Back to the Future 3.  You're the center slice of a square cheese pizza.  Actually, that sounds delicious.  I'm the center slice of a square cheese pizza.  You're Jim Belushi.

- Abed Nadir

Now, this television show's longstanding hatred of Jim Belushi aside, the point here is that poor Britta is being skewered for being normal.  Because apparently being at the top of the bell curve is a bad thing.
      I disagree.  I don't think that there is anything wrong with being normal.  With being one of the giant slice of those of us who inhabit the area in the middle of the bell curve spectrum.  It is great to be an exceptional occurrence, but being the norm is okay.  We have for some reason set up this who idea by which we are all told that we are individuals, snowflakes, uncommon occurrences, yet we all long to fit in and sit on top of the bell curve.  Even the nonconformists hang together.  We rove in packs - it is in our DNA.  But packs can't be all made up of examples of the ends of the bell curve, it just doesn't work.  Someone always ends up on the top of the bell curve.  And I think that is a wonderful place to be.

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