Of Burgers-Fries and Excellence

Photo by Peter Dawn on Unsplash

My favorite local hamburger joint is the simply named “Burger Shack.”  The hamburgers are good, made to order, with an option for a gluten-free bun; prices are decent.  Where this joint completely outshines the crowded competition is that the fries are far and away the best around.

One might think that with a commonplace menu centered on burgers, fries, and milkshakes the fare could easily become mediocre.  There is plenty of that available in the surrounding culinary community.  The national mass-production chains cater to the market for mediocre.  They had occupied the so-so field for so long that it appeared that all the burger rivalry was solely among the giant mediocrities, working hard to find new ways to repackage and remarket the same thing, becoming more alike in their efforts to appear different.

Who knew that people—lots of people—could be attracted to excellence in burgers and fries?  A few daring souls made a go at the chance that there may be customer demand for more than mediocre.  The market allowed it and rewarded it.  Competition to rise above mediocre has become fierce, with customers benefitting from the choices offered.    

Not that I would forbid mediocrity.  Mediocrity is O.K., as far as it goes, but only O.K.  I am happy that there can be more.

Enjoying better burgers, pleased with better shoes, and glad for better dentists, I find the insistence on mediocrity and the outcry against excellence astonishing.  How frequently we encounter voices decrying competition, seeking to standardize everything by treating everything and everyone the same!  Is that what people really want?  We used to have a shelf full of trophies “won” by our children just for showing up.  We failed to convince the kids to take them to their own homes for display.

More astonishing is the assertion that celebration of mediocrity and condemnation of competition promote diversity.  The theory is that diversity cannot compete in a system that rewards excellence.  What is the alternative prescription for diversity from these levelers?  They demand removal of standards that applaud excellence in achievement or that recognize merit in performance.

Reality reveals opposite results.  This leveler ethic promotes either or both of two outcomes.  First, things tend toward the same as differences are discouraged; efforts that improve performance are placed at risk of suppression.  Second—alternatively or concomitantly—the levelers who rise above to be in charge of administering this doctrine decide recognition and advancement, and they do so based on whatever standard suits their fancy or is then in vogue.  Such standards tend to be unmeasurable, subject to whim, suiting the arbitrary caprice of the chief levelers.

In short, diversity is always in danger in the tyranny of mediocrity.  No one must be more beautiful, according to the day’s definition of beauty.

For a time the big burger chains, which initially arose by offering a better, excellent idea (until the idea became standardized) put the local mom and pop joints out of business.  Markets, though, have allowed competition to work its magic, tolerating room for some intrepid innovators to test customer interest in burger excellence.  Some succeed.

There comes the levelers’ claim that competition is inhuman, or at least unkind.  It supposedly disadvantages those who are not excellent, who are only mediocre.  Since not everyone can excel, this competition must be stopped.

That claim is inhuman and unkind.  People everywhere are mediocre or less than mediocre at some things, but each can do something better than someone else can.  The variety of talents and gifts is constantly amazing (and sometimes amusing).

If mediocrity standards are imposed, however will we discern the excellence that each has to offer?  Each person may be stymied from discovering what he or she is best at doing.  How does one find the divinity in his or her humanity, embedded in the unique gifts from God awaiting to be developed?  How many advances will be lost? We will be poorer for the loss.

I do not know how long it took the owners of Burger Shack to find out that they could offer an excellent product.  Perhaps they are still finding out.  While the year’s virus restrictions play to the advantages of the big, national firms, the last time I was at Burger Shack it was booming, even under the restrictions.  If allowed, people find a way.

Of Anger and Gratitude

The week before His atoning sacrifice and resurrection, Jesus Christ told His Apostles that a time would come when, “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”  Once again, in our day, Jesus Christ has called Apostles to spread His message.  This November, when much that was swirling around the world made it feel like such a time was upon us, Christ’s prophet, Russell M. Nelson, called for people to rise above clamor and cool the global distemper.  He asked that people take the week of Thanksgiving to flood social media, each day, with expressions of gratitude.  Millions responded.

Here is the collection of my expressions of gratitude, employing the label #GiveThanks:

Illumination.  Spent a pleasant afternoon with Christmas lights, preparing for Thanksgiving Night to flip the switch for the Christmas season.  I am grateful for the people who invent these wonderful beauties and for our trading system that makes them available.  Cambodia was this year’s new source of bright LEDs.  

Books.  I have long thought that one of the greatest bargains in the world is a book.  An author spends years, perhaps a lifetime, writing and sharing his thoughts, his research, his experience, his ideas, his wit, and charm, his spiritual insights, and much more.  And we buy it for a few dollars.  I am grateful for those who write, publish, and make books available.

Music.  The Christmas season quickly approaches.  Music is one of the most wonderful and penetrating ways of celebrating Christmas, in all of its aspects, from the sacredness of the birth of Christ, to the many wonderful traditions and fetes of celebration.

I have a theory that all truly great music—simple or complex—is not created but rather discovered by the composer.  Such music is, I envision, part of a body of music already known and celebrated in heaven.  I could be wrong, but some music is so sublime that it seems to me impossible that heaven could not already be aware of it.  It is my thought that “Greensleeves” belongs to such a class of discovered music.  Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Pachelbel’s Canon in D, the folk tune “Shenandoah,” among many others, are part of that divine play list, along with beauties yet to be discovered.  So it seems to me.  I am deeply grateful for those who write, perform, and make music available.

Work.  I have come to appreciate work.  I am grateful for work.  It gets stuff done.  My father was a worker.  He was always working, on the job, at home, at Church.  My sons know how to work and are quick to pitch in.  My older son tells me it’s the key to his success in his career:  he looks for the tough jobs and succeeds with them.  I have seen it, in him and his brother, as the key to success throughout their lives.

I am grateful for the opportunities to work, at home, at Church, and in my career.  I am grateful for those who work and those who gave me the opportunity to work and allowed me to apply inspiration to work smarter.  I have found work to be the key to faith:  you work at what you have faith in, and you get more faith.  It keeps on growing.  It’s worked for me.

By the way, my Dad liked to tell me that lazy people made the world go round, because they found easier ways to do more.

Art.  A multitude of thanks to those, throughout the ages and into the present, who have produced art that has stirred my soul:  mind, spirit, and body.  I think that the artistic sense is part of the divine in each of us, as examples of artwork are coequal with human history.  As with all gifts from God, some nurture their artistic sense and produce inspiring wonders.  I love to see such works as I visit art museums, which can stimulate the “muse” in me more than other museums.

The National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., is a favorite.  Having seen others around the world, it is truly world class.  The Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam, is breathtaking, especially since the remodeling has achieved marvelous things with light.  It takes nothing away from these wondrous museums to admit that I was stunned with my first visit to the Louvre.  The incomparable wealth of artistic beauty into which I was immersed overwhelmed me.  I am grateful for these museums, and for many smaller gems of artistic display that I have visited.  I never feel that there is enough time to take in the experience—good reason to keep going back.

Friendship.  Humans are social animals.  My experience tells me that we all need friends.  I am grateful for my friends, and I thank them for their friendship.  I thank them for welcoming my friendship.  Our friendship enriches life and strengthens us in times of challenge.

One of the great challenges of recent months has been to overcome barriers to friendship, whether physical barriers, psychological barriers, or even political barriers.  I thank my friends for their innovative and extra efforts to rise above those barriers.

I recall the lyrics to the song, “What a Wonderful World:”

“I see friends shaking hands, saying how do you do. They’re only saying I love you.”

It is healthy.  I love my friends.  They make me wealthy in what really matters.  Thank you.

Family.  Families are meant to last.  I am grateful that I have been part of a family all my life.  I first learned of love in my family.  The joys of family—such as we experienced in today’s Thanksgiving Day gathering—can make existence in this world of sin all worth it.

Thanks to those who form and keep families, who work hard to preserve and strengthen their families.  I think of not just the family of my wife and me and our children, but a family that reaches in both directions, a family with roots and branches.  My ancestors have not disappeared into nothingness, and I anticipate a posterity that extends forever.  I am strengthened by them all, through Jesus Christ who made families, such as His, to last forever.  Of this I am forever grateful.  It literally means everything.

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