The average American is above average.

Bob Hatcher

September 10, 2012

                The other day I heard a quote attributed to a writer/broadcaster in the 30’s named Franklin P. Adams.  He said (and he apparently made this statement often), “The average American is above average.” I like that statement. For the most part agree with it.       

            The average person I know at church; out and about in Rabun County; at the Emory University School of Medicine; working at FAITH here in Clayton; and whom I cared for as a physician over a span of 5 decades, has been above average. Those whom I have been blessed to know and love in my family have been above average. I like that phrase: “The average American is above average.”

            Eric Hoffer, the San Francisco longshoreman, who wrote a series of books when he was not working on the docks, said much the same thing with different words: he suggested that “people are lumpy with talent.”  I agree with that too. People figure out, work on and produce amazing things.   

            A wise physician who taught most of his life in the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Emory, Dr. Malcolm G. Freeman, often said that at any point in time most people are trying to do what they think is the best thing for them to do.  They are trying to live up to the best in themselves.  

            Groups of people tend to make average people above average by sustaining, encouraging, bolstering and helping out one another.  It may be a study group, a writing group, a team of athletes, a class, a family or an entire nation. Groups usually help out one another to be the best that each person can be.

            The day Maggie and I spent on the Normandy Coast was a highlight of our 2 weeks in France. More on this day soon. The men participating in the D-Day invasion of the Normandy Coast were anything but average.  They demonstrated without question the wisdom of Franklin P. Adams oft’ stated quip in the 1930’s and 1940’s: “The average American is above average.” 

            But sometimes people get into groups where the culture of the group brings out the worst in them.  The expectations of the group come to override the talent and the inherent decency of the individuals in that group so that together they are far less wonderful, far less capable, far less admirable and far less wise than they are when each person in that group is acting on his or her own as an individual. In this case the whole becomes less than the sum of the parts.    

            Unfortunately, I believe this is now exactly how it is now with our U.S. Congress. As individuals, our elected representatives in Washington are well above average. However, they are focused almost exclusively on reelection and when it comes to their main responsibility, passing laws; they are, as a group, almost completely dysfunctional and ineffective.

Robert A. Hatcher MD, MPH
Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics
Emory University School of Medicine
Atlanta, Georgia