Ernest Hello on the Mediocre Man

Source: Ernest Hello, Life, Science, and Art, trans. by E. M. Walker (London: R. & T. Washbourne, 1912), 112–115.

Is the mediocre man silly, stupid, idiotic? Not in the least. The idiot is at one extreme of the world, the man of genius is at the other. The mediocre man is in the middle. I do not say that he occupies the center of the intellectual world, that would be quite another matter; he occupies a middle position.

The characteristic trait of the mediocre man is his deference for public opinion. He never really talks; he only repeats what others have said. He judges a man by his age, his position, his success, his income. He has the profoundest respect for those who have attained notoriety, no matter how, and for authors with a large circulation. 

The mediocre man may have certain special aptitudes; he may even have talent. But he is utterly wanting in intuition. He has no insight; he never will have any. He can learn; he cannot divine. Occasionally he allows an idea to penetrate into his mind, but he does not follow its various applications, and if it is stated in different terms, he denies its truth.

The mediocre man may, and often does, respect good people and men of talent. He fears and detests Saints and men of genius–he considers them exaggerated.

Of what use, he inquires, are the religious Orders, especially the contemplative Orders? He approves of the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul because their work relates, partially at least, to the visible world. But the Carmelites, he says, what can be the good of them?

The mediocre man admires everything a little; he admires nothing warmly. If you confront him with his own thoughts, his own sentiments, expressed with enthusiasm, he will be displeased. He will declare that you are exaggerating. He prefers enemies, so long as they are cold, to friends who are warm. What he detests above all is enthusiasm. 

To escape the reproach of intolerance aimed by him at all who think with consistency and decision, you would have to take refuge in absolute doubt; but even then you must be careful not to call doubt by its name. He considers every affirmation insolent, because every affirmation excludes the contradictory proposition. You must represent it as a modest opinion, which respects the rights of the contrary opinion, and appears to affirm something while affirming nothing whatever. But if you are slightly friendly and slightly hostile to all things, he will consider you wise and reserved. The mediocre man says there is good and evil in all things, and that we must not be absolute in our judgments. If you strongly affirm the truth, the mediocre man will say that you have too much confidence in yourself.

The mediocre man regrets that the Christian religion has dogmas. He would like it to teach only ethics, and if you tell him that its code of morals comes from its dogmas as the consequences comes from the principle, he will answer that you exaggerate. If the word “exaggeration” did not exist, the mediocre man would invent it.

The mediocre man, in his distrust of all that is great, maintains that he values good sense before everything. But he has not the remotest idea what good sense is. He merely understands by that expression the negation of all that is lofty. 

The man of intelligence looks up to admire and to adore; the mediocre man looks up to mock. All that is above him seems to him ridiculous; the Infinite appears to him a void.

The mediocre man appears habitually modest. He cannot be humble, or he would cease to be mediocre. The humble man scorns all lies, even were they glorified by the whole earth, and he bows the knee before every truth.

The mediocre man is much more wicked than either he himself or anyone else imagines, because his coldness masks his wickedness. He never gets in a rage. He perpetrates innumerable little infamies, so petty that they do not appear to be infamous. And he is never afraid, for he relies on the vast multitude of those who resemble him.

When, however, a man mediocre by nature becomes a true and sincere Christian, he ceases absolutely to be mediocre. He may not, indeed, become a man of striking superiority, but he is rescued from mediocrity by the Hand that rules the world. THE MAN WHO LOVES IS NEVER MEDIOCRE.