All of us have heard, perhaps many times, complimentary references to the so-called “common man.”
He (or she) is widely regarded as praiseworthy simply because of his sameness, as if being virtually indistinguishable from millions of others is a good thing. I don’t buy it. I prefer to encourage uncommonness.
Imagine a parent telling a child, “Johnny, if you work really hard, some day you can be common!” Setting a promising child’s sights no higher than average strikes me as a form of abuse that can stunt personal growth and achievement.
I’m reminded of a short essay called “My Creed” by a New Yorker named Dean Alfange, an immigrant from Turkey. He wrote it some 60 years ago:
I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon, if I can. I seek opportunity, not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me.
I want to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole. I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia.
I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; to think and act for myself, enjoy the benefit of my creations and to face the world boldly and say, “This I have done.”
Sometimes the uncommon person is offensive, intrusive or even violent. But on most occasions, he’s simply a little rebellious or peculiar and, at the same time, a positive good for society. He (or she) is just different. How boring this world would be if everything and everybody were common and conventional!
I think we should be grateful for the uncommonly good, the uncommonly productive, the uncommonly generous, the uncommonly inventive and the uncommonly courageous. They are the men and women who leave the world not just as they found it, but as a better or freer place because of their specialness.
“Think Different” was the name for a 1997 Apple ad campaign that paid tribute to the unusual among us. Featuring footage of famous personalities from Bob Dylan to Thomas Edison, its one-minute celebrated the uncommon with these words:
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify them or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them – because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.
I have no interest in homogenizing people in a socialist or egalitarian blender. You’ll never produce heroes that way.
Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education. Each week, he writes about exceptional people, including many from his book, “Real Heroes: Inspiring True Stories of Courage, Character and Conviction.”