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For all my championing of excellence, I said something in a conversation yesterday that made me come up short. A friend was telling me of the effort and will he was putting into a particular topic, and how determined he was to ensure that all turned out as right as it could be. To this noble sentiment I gave a callous response. You would be surprised, I told him, how far mediocrity would get you.

The fact is that this is a stunning concession on my side. I, who spent all those posts espousing stronger values of determination, focus, ambition and planning am back to putting forward the cause of mediocrity? The reason I do this is because even in the context of mediocrity I find that most people are unwilling to put in the necessary effort. Take attending university. The mediocre minimum is to turn up on time, to classes whilst having done the reading. Sit there and pay attention, try to answer between two and three questions that are asked of the class by the teacher, the earlier the question is asked the better, for earlier questions tend to be easier ones, and you will be astonished how far this will carry you. You become instantly part of the cream of the crop. Teachers will say good things of you, people will peg you as one of the clever people and consider your words of special worth. It might make you uncool though, it’s never been trendy to be smart.

Sadly this represents too onerous a demand on many who attend. They want to hide in the back, to create a notional attendance, too afraid of not knowing or being made to look stupid or even worse too apathetic. Surely even if you do not know guessing in a class will make a tremendous step forward. Is it really hard to do this? Turn up, bluff your way through a question, and journey on through the day having made your small contribution. If you do even this, you will make a great impact on people that you pass through on your day. Reliability, a bit of information and a point of view will be more then enough to make you look like a genius.

True genius is transcendent, it is rare, exceptional and usually simple. Most people don’t understand how to do it and are forced to live on in anonymity. Genius is a collection of simple habits that fake most of its attributes, and I assure you, you can get away with it. The fact is that most people around us don’t understand it and have no exposure to it. They take it to be something they can deal with, and therefore even the simulation of it will gain you all the accolades of it. And more crucially I believe, by taking on the habits and styling of it, you inculcate in you the ability to do it.


    • Anonymous
    • Posted April 6, 2006 at 8:37 am
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    wow. you must think that most people you meet, are acquainted with, or even are friends with, are pretty mediocre. pretty average. not really worth your while .. so how do you put up with them?

    • Mohammed Talib
    • Posted April 6, 2006 at 2:47 pm
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    Quite the contrary. I think they’re very very able, but they bring their A-game only once every few weeks when they’re inspired by something external and then they think that the something else is what is responsible. They think that its all too big for them, so they don’t even try. They don’t even aim to be competent or mediocre at it.

    They don’t realise that they’re letting themselves down, instead of something pulling themselves up. In every single class I have, every week, someone who was silent for months will out do themselves by making the most intelligent, insightful and penetrative points, and you just wonder where was this person for the last 5 months when they were just sitting around at the back too timid presumably to get involved.

    • Dom
    • Posted April 11, 2006 at 3:06 pm
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    So are you saying genius people are the ones who ask questions? Did it ever occur to you that the smart guy is the silent one because he understands all the stuff and maybe more, so there isn’t a question to be asked? Even better, the real genius may never show his face in lectures because “going through the easy stuff again” is a waste of his time?

    • Mohammed Talib
    • Posted April 11, 2006 at 4:40 pm
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    You have to ask questions and get involved because there are many areas of the law where nobody knows the answer, not even the best judges in the country have answered the question, and more often then not there is a complex interplay of facts and theory that sometimes I’m not even sure my teachers understand.

    There is no way you are turning up to a class on something like self-determination, international human rights or liability for psychiatric damage without having questions that in fact have no answers, and then you have to engage the rest of the class, and find out opinions and ideas from the range of people to take on perspectives and points that you would not have considered or developed yourself.

    I can see how you can turn up at a science class and know everything, but to turn up at a philosophy or law class whilst knowing everything is impossible. The more you understand the topic, the more questions you have to ask, and the more unanswerable the questions become. It’s a subject that stands at the juncture of history, philosophy, politics and morality. There can never be clarity in the law in every instance.

    • Anonymous
    • Posted April 22, 2006 at 5:43 am
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    The reason why many University students neglect their work is because work is not the centre of their lives. They realize that streams of questions in class are, in reality, more likely to waste time than pioneer. They realize that life is too fragile and youth is too precious to waste on philosophical theories that are, essentially, little more than ego-clashes between stuffy Professors in their ivory towers.

    In short, they realize that academia is only academia. It is a point you would do well to remember.

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