In the pursuit of excellence, we’ve let the conditions of the ordinary Australian slip. Ordinary is fine, and ordinary is worth fighting for.
Each time I scroll past the preened windows of Instagram on my phone, I think of a quote from the world’s tallest, and most famous republican:
“The Lord prefers common-looking people. That is why he made so many of them.”
Oh boy, if only. I’m certain Abraham Lincoln would begrudge my atheism, but perhaps the wise old chap would be heartened by my embrace of his words – especially in a world that encourages a pathological obsession with one’s appearance.
From a young age, I understood being ordinary was a punishment, an admittance of my failure to be the “best version of myself”. I remember feeling the knots tighten in my guts when I’d see someone better than me at something I loved – a stark reminder I remained a piece of shit until I became excellent. If excellent was not an option, then being beautiful was the only other available avenue.
No wonder I was an anxious kid. Thankfully, little, fluffy-haired me was, and is, never alone in this place.
I know that not every kid grows up in the rough outer suburbs, sports a mullet, or has a brother who enjoys spraying freezing Ventolin in their ear – but I digress.
When we are distracted by our “pursuit of excellence” I believe we forget to enjoy anything in earnest, or more importantly, fight for the basics.
If you are like me, and not born into money – or like countless others, not nurtured from a young age – you’re already on the back foot. High levels of success are not just “a little” out of reach, they feel like a near impossibility.
In every small town, outer suburb and remote postcode, you will see uniform aspirational imagery – shiny, smiling, smug, proud and entirely tunnel-visioned. You’ll see it on a YouTube or television ad, on an “influencer’s” page on Insta, or from our politicians telling us to get “a decent job”. It is out there to convince disadvantaged Australians of how their lives could look if only they worked a little harder.
Why are we all caught in the rat race to be the best, when we could be fighting a little harder for a more crucial outcome – a good standard of living for the ordinary person?
The average Aussie earns around $62,000 annually (a far cry from Scott Morrison’s original estimate this year of $84,600). While inflation and the cost of living skyrockets, wage growth actually goes backwards.
Jobs in manufacturing and textiles have all but disappeared, and increasing automation in all industries means jobs for ordinary, working class people are becoming less and less accessible.
In addition to the shrinking pool of opportunities, our vocational education system has had a huge funding hole blown in it. If you happen to be out of work, you’ll live on a Newstart allowance of $38 a day. Thanks to a number of recent policy decisions, that’s not rising any time soon.
While we are seeing more support for small business (and, of course, much larger ones), companies are increasingly been exposed for paying illegally low wages – or jumping at the opportunity to dump their worker’s penalty rates. The priorities for those who have power, influence and capital are being laid bear for all to see – at least, to those that can access it.
Which brings me to this question: why are we all caught in the rat race to be the best, when we could be fighting a little harder for a more crucial outcome – a good standard of living for the ordinary person?
Unions, at their best, were a stronghold of worker’s rights. Now, after years of systematic corruption and dysfunction, we are left with an entire generation that has little to no faith in a union’s ability to represent them, so they don’t even sign up.
These compounding factors can really fuel the disadvantaged in communities that are not included in fervent political dialogue – isolated from the big cities, in urban growth boundaries – the areas deemed by many as “repulsive”, “dodgy” or “lacking in character”. The same areas where the infrastructure seldom keeps up with growth – which, of course, is touted as so valuable to our economy.
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The reality is that our nation’s highly successful businesses cannot and will not trickle their wealth down far enough so that working people will have their wages steadily grow, are able to comfortably afford a home or send their kids to a school where they don’t feel unsafe. Mark my words, a tax cut to a company that makes an annual profit of $500 million will not be used to benefit the workers on the ground. It will likely be used to encourage higher investment from shareholders, push more advertising or line the pockets of their executives.
As I have researched this piece, I think back to the suburban area I grew up in. It is being increasingly sold off as an “investment opportunity” to the wealthy (in an email sent straight to my inbox from a property firm, no less); any feature I recall as a child now demolished, or in the process of being, to make way for more houses and franchise businesses.
Tell me again how there was never any “character to begin with”, so nothing to truly destroy.
If it is not obvious by now, the ordinary Aussie have lost their voice. The current rhetoric remains rigid – “claw your way to the top and forget the guys at the bottom, they don’t matter.”
As a nation, we punish disadvantage, poverty, addiction, choices in food and clothing, we ridicule those who enjoy music or entertainment that defines their experience on the “bottom rung”. It is a far cry from the egalitarian spirit we were meant to uphold, or the “fair go” we all thought was real.
Our current economic model operates out of a kind of mild slavery that convinces you that value comes from a postcode. Instead of letting this proliferate further, we must go back to the basics and embrace this message instead:
Ordinary is fine, ordinary is good, and ordinary is worth fighting for.
Excellence at best is a tool for advancement and higher understanding, and at worst used as a weapon against the most average, ordinary or even the marginalised. Classism is not just alive, it is thriving.
Abraham Lincoln may not be your or my favourite historic figure, but he seemed to understand the value in being totally, happily imperfect.
So should you.