Apparently, Italians have embraced mediocrity to the fullest.
It sounds offensive, but I’d argue that if it’s true, they’re living better because of it.
I’ve always thought Italians attitude toward work and life has to do with two things: 1) war and 2) time. Italy has a long and bloody history of constantly changing rulers. After so many changes, how much does it really matter who is doing the ruling? The way I’ve read it, it seems that the Italians simply put their heads down and went on with life, no matter what the higher ups were doing. As long as they could work, love and eat then life wasn’t so bad. (Actually, it doesn’t seem to be much different today either…)
Obviously these are vast stereotypes that cannot possibly apply to each individual Italian, but it does seem to ring true in my day-to-day interactions. It seems that Italy has longed stopped fighting the sense of powerlessness brought on by life, by two centuries of wars, corrupt and inefficient government and exorbitant taxes. In the process, they’ve gained a sort of eternal peace that only a higher understanding of time can bring.
It’s not that Italians aren’t ambitious, it’s that they are so used to the long pull of life – and its instability – that they’ve accepted things as they are. They work to change them, but shrug when something doesn’t turn out right.
The United States is a society that thinks every problem has a solution. The Italians believe some things are more of a paradox that we manage and less a problem that we solve.
It’s a concept so foreign, that it seems nearly offensive. It goes against all our puritanical American beliefs. It’s flabbergasting, unacceptable! So we complain. At least, I complain. No one ever finishes things, payment is never outright discussed and never exchanged on time, laws change or else are considered mere suggestions and orderly lines are non-existent.
But maybe we’re thinking about it all wrong.
A Room With A View by E.M Forster sums it up perfectly, when one protagonist says to the other: “One doesn’t come to Italy for niceness,” …. “one comes for life.”
Because if there’s any country that has understood what it means to live, to truly absolutely live, it’s Italy. We don’t call a hamster spinning a hamster wheel productive, yet we define our own spinning as such. It’s not productivity and it certainly isn’t life. At least not what life should be.
Italy is an entire nation that lives off of the maxim, “the sweetness of doing nothing.” A philosophy that shows Italians’ sense of time – one that is older than time itself. We’re only here for a short time, and while we want to do our best, we want to be happy while doing it.
Maybe our constant need to escape mediocrity – to be something, do something, be someone – is what’s really holding us back. Holding us back from achieving those things (sometimes the expectations paralyze the outcome) and holding us back from being happy.
Worrying that we’re not achieving enough is wasting time from actually achieving, from producing, from having fun, from proverbially smelling the roses. “Shoot high,” they say, “even if you miss you’ll land amongst the stars.” Truly that’s so. If only approximately 1,000 out of the 7.2 billion people on earth are influencers, then perhaps they are the planets and the rest of us are the stars. Our daily goal should always be to be great, but we can still be happy among the stars.
We can still produce brilliant novels and consider ourselves average. We can study languages, give love, make breakthroughs, all with the pleasant knowledge that we are not necessarily brilliant, and that that’s ok.
Because while we’re huffing and puffing on the hamster wheel, the Italians are finding ecstasy (from ekstasis meaning an out-of-body experience) in the pungent smell of espresso, the taste of freshly pressed olive oil, the sound of cars on cobblestone streets and the sharp peaks of the Alps cutting through the sky.
The Italians find happiness in everyday life; Is it mediocre, or oh-so-ahead?