I know you’ve talked about them. I know you’ve criticized them. You’ve both championed and judged them in the same breath. Today, I’m going to talk about the average person.

I’m an average person, and you are too. Don’t forget this.

I’m average at more things than I’m good at, actually. I’m likely average at just about anything I’ve only ever done a handful of times that I didn’t find captivating enough to become above-average at. Go figure.

In software development, we talk a lot about “the average person” as if they require some kind of hand-holding or help. The systems are inherently complex, and the software should ultimately eliminate that complexity for them.

In real life, “the average person” is usually some kind of dumbass who acts irresponsibly. They don’t change the oil in their car because “the average person” doesn’t know what oil is or how it works or why it’s necessary. They aren’t financially responsible because “the average person” is living check-to-check without savings or investments. Whatever…

In customer service, “the average person” is usually an inconsiderate jerk that takes no responsibility for their own actions because the customer is always right, and all they do is complain about nothing. This one might actually be true. Just kidding. Maybe. I mean, I’m a customer, but I don’t think I’m an average one. Sigh.

In every scenario I can imagine, everyone makes the average person out to be less-than, incompetent, or somehow beneath them, to convey that the person saying it is somehow above the average at this one thing, if not others to justify and support their perspective.

I’m guilty of this. It’s easy to lump people together, classify them for one reason or another, and quickly convey to others the demographic you’re targeting. I think, though, that this simplifies a much larger issue, and is a slippery slope towards introducing a top-down culture where leaders accidentally (vs. intentionally) influence their constituents to think and speak poorly of those less experienced than they are.

One place I do this constantly, and without joy, is driving a car. I love driving. I’m good at it. I’ve easily logged a over a million miles between 15 cars in my lifetime. Because of my passion and experience level, I have a difficult time having empathy for people that aren’t very good at driving but are out in public trying to do it anyways. My wife and I lament about how many times someone almost kills us on a daily basis, because “the average person” is talking, texting, not paying attention, or totally lacks any kind of spacial awareness to understand the consequences of their driving actions.

It’s a bad way to be, I think.

It’s toxic, and perpetually negative. It creates this reality distortion field between you and other people, that they’re not actually people trying to accomplish the same tasks you are but maybe not doing as good a job at is as you would do. I’m not saying it isn’t true, or that you aren’t actually better than that average Joe; rather, I’m saying that patting yourself on the back for having more experience or higher comprehension is poor form, selfish, and sets bad precedent and example for anyone that witnesses it.

This is why more sophisticated strategists exist, that are able to boil groups of people down not into averages, but into almost literal boxes to which they fit comfortably in. It’s like stereotyping, but in a good way, I guess? People that have this ability are fascinating to me, because after years of working largely alone and remotely I think I’ve lost what little social comfort I earned in my teens and twenties and have in increasingly difficult time being comfortable around people that are above average at something I am average at. Phew…

If you find yourself thinking about “the average person” please don’t forget that you’re probably average at a bunch of stuff, and someone probably thought of you in the context of being totally vanilla and without value when it comes to some dumb thing that you don’t even care about. Try to flip your verbiage around to bring out the best in whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, and you’ll have more positive results.

And thanks for tolerating my average writing skills! <3


About the Author

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4 comments on “"The Average Person"

  • Central Geek January 21, 2016 at 1:59 am

    At the risk of sounding like “the average person” I have often considered many developers as “the average person” when they think they know better than the people who use their software what options they should have. But, hey what do I know. Even developers have their limitations, right?

    Objectifying other human beings is a dangerous thing to do. That is if one ever wants to be more than what average people would consider to be an arrogant ass (similar to “dumbass”). Just saying. And I am not referring to you JJJ. I find you quite the reflective sort who does take into consideration that you too are just as human as the next person. Or that is the way you come across in your posts and the videos I have seen you in.

    And if you would ever like to find out how skilled you really are at driving, please let me know. I get choose the place and the vehicles.. Then we could both hope this old man doesn’t give himself a heart attack like “the average person” most likely would. 😉

    BTW, this comment is meant in the spirit of fun. Fun, as in that thing many developers don’t identify with when dealing with “the average person”. IMHO :))

    This post was just too tempting. Thanks

  • RRHelm January 21, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Nice points. I do think that I also lump thing into a kind of artificial binary–there are the average and the above-average, and those are the categories. Which means above-average is really the only good place to be, and average should be avoided at all cost. I am constantly reminding myself that with every skill there is a bell curve skill level across a population, and most of us are in the middle. And frankly, the middle is a great place to be. Less lonely. More company.

  • Legi Mountbatten February 5, 2016 at 4:15 am

    Lovely sentiment, a lack of empathy is the first step towards dehumanising people. Which is quite apt for current political/societal situations, such as the refugees pouring into europe and global poverty. ‘Average’ on a global scale is a whole different ball game.

    Maybe I’ve extrapolated too far from your original point. Just what came to mind.

  • wrestlemania 32 live April 2, 2016 at 5:25 am

    Nice points. I do think that I also lump thing into a kind of artificial binary–there are the average and the above-average, and those are the categories. Which means above-average is really the only good place to be, and average should be avoided at all cost. I am constantly reminding myself that with every skill there is a bell curve skill level across a population

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