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The entire Navigate the Chaos collection of all 365 blog posts is now available in a paperback entitled Navigate the Chaos (795 pages for $24.99). A smaller collection of thoughts from the Navigate the Chaos collection is available in paperback entitled Wonder (94 pages for $4.99)

How often do you value the ordinary?

Today is December 8 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “How often do you value the ordinary?”

Today’s reflection begins with the etymology of the word ‘ordinary.’ The etymology of the word ordinary stems from Latin ordinarius meaning "customary, regular, or usual.” Examples include “it is customary to say thank you when someone holds a door for you,” “the regular shift workers called out sick tonight,” and “the usual suspects were called into question.”

People who navigate the chaos know that they encounter many ‘regular’ or ‘usual’ people. These ordinary people may feel invisible to others. They may feel as if their lives pale in comparison to others. For those navigating the chaos, however, these ordinary people are visible and contribute in some small way to everyone they encounter.

Throughout any given day there are usual people such as restaurant workers, store clerks, administrative assistants, and countless other members of the service industry that often go unnoticed by so many people.

There are many reasons for this; none of which are covered in this Navigate the Chaos post. Today’s post discusses the value of the ordinary. Those that navigate the chaos value the ordinary by demonstrating some level of compassion to those they encounter.

As you go about your day working on one goal after another, ask yourself how often you stop and ask ‘ordinary’ people you encounter how they are feeling. Do so intentionally and listen to hear not respond. If time is of the essence and a conversation is impossible in the moment, then challenge yourself to be kind to those ordinary people that cross your path.

The 19th century English novelist Mary Ann Evans understood the value of the ordinary. In her 1871 novel Middlemarch Evans celebrated the ordinary where she wrote “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Here the key phrase is “that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been.” How true! The ordinary help make our lives better and that so often goes ignored. For example, who is the ordinary person who ensures the traffic lights in our town work correctly? Who are the ordinary people that deliver our packages to our front door? And who are the ordinary people who plow our roads in the snow?

Without these ordinary people our lives would be, to paraphrase Evans ‘a bit more ill.’ Evans was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. In addition to Middlemarch, Evans wrote six other novels, most of which are set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.

Evans’ Eliot's Middlemarch has been described by the novelists Martin Amis and Julian Barnes as the greatest novel in the English language. It is interesting to note that Mary Ann Evans used the pen name George Eliot.

Although female authors were published under their own names during her lifetime, she wanted to escape the stereotype of women's writing being limited to lighthearted romances. In other words, Evans used a man’s name to escape the ordinary since people lacked the ability to consider a woman writing about something other than romance. Evans understood how ordinary men and women made the world a better place.

Former U.S. President James Garfield made a similar observation and noted “There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It really matters very little whether they are behind the wheel of a truck or running a business or bringing up a family. They teach the truth by living it.”

  • How often have you told someone they make the world a better place by being who they are?

  • Has anyone told you that you make the world a better place?

  • How do you treat people who most would consider ordinary?

  • How many ‘ordinary’ people do you encounter in a day? And how many of those do you actually see?

  • When you are ‘in a rush’ how often do you remind yourself to stop for a moment and recognize the ‘ordinary’ person you just encountered?


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