If we have a daimon, a genius, an indwelling spirit that spurs some of us to great heights, what of those that seem to live normal, everyday lives? Can there be a call to mediocrity? Yes, says Hillman, there is a call – but not in the way that we think. We denigrate the mediocre but that is so when we generalize – for who can tell us the character of each person making up this mass of “average”, those who live without shining so brightly?
“So let’s clear away a typical mistake: identifying vocation only with a specific kind of job, rather than also with the performance in the job,” says Hillman (p.252)
Recall persons you know, who seem so average but for a particular set of values, attitudes, actions which make them really stand out. In my mind, they are those who seem particularly true to themselves. That is living to what the daimon prods – theirs is a calling not to fame, but a call to character.
Does this sound like a cop-out for the unstriving? “To be at all is to be defined by a form, a style,” but “for the soul the idea of mediocrity is meaningless… Let us not confuse a particular gift – like Menuhin’s for the violin, or Teller’s for physics, or Ford’s for mechanics – with the call. The talent is only a piece of the image…” (p.250)
While reading, I realized that the very idea of calling had in my mind formed as an antithesis to the content, measured life. Probably because those who I have known or read spoke of calling as something that for some reason opposed what they were, yet couldn’t help but obey. And often, at the cost of comfort or wellbeing. Hillman turns this on its head, saying
“Calling becomes a calling to life, rather than imagined in conflict with life. Calling to honesty rather than to success, to caring and mating, to service and struggle for the sake of living. This view offers a revision of vocation not only in the lives of women or as viewed by women; it offers another idea of calling altogether, in which life is the work.” (p. 255, emphasis mine).
Those who seem to have been doomed by a “mediocre daimon” (can there be such a thing?), or an “average” genius, he says “we are unable to estimate them at all.”
“As long as we regard people in terms of earning power or specific expertise, we do not see their character. Our lens has been ground to one average prescription that is best suited for spotting freaks.” (p.255)