Duane Smith: Don’t make America mediocre again

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

On Wednesday while driving a back, secluded mountain road in Santa Clarita, I observed something suspicious. Parked alongside the road was a man sitting on the edge of the highway with a small black camera placed on a small black tripod.

The camera was pointed at a train tunnel. More likely than not, the man’s motives, I believe, were harmless. Regardless, civic duty convinced me to call 911. I did so at 11:28 a.m. Wednesday.

After I listened to at least 10 rings, a woman answered. Following my description of what I observed, she said she needed to transfer me to 911.

I responded, admittedly with frustration, “But I called 911?” She then answered, “Well, I don’t know how you did that. …”

To which I replied, “First I pushed the number 9, then I pushed the number 1. …” She then abruptly transferred me.

I repeated the story to a second woman to whom I was connected. She told me that she needed to transfer me to someone else!

After I repeated the story a third time to a third woman, she asked me zero questions regarding the person with the camera or his vehicle and simply said “Thank you.”

Shocked, I asked her, “Do you want the license plate and make of the car?” The operator responded, “Oh, yeah! I did not think you had that!”

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, the numerals “911” have represented for me a sense of pride, fear, unity, resolve and strength. Ironically and tragically, now 911 for me has also become a reminder of a far greater threat to America than any terrorists: mediocrity!

Mediocrity, the standard of neither good nor bad, but barely adequate that was once primarily confined to neglected public schools, government services and all related bureaucracies, has spread into all aspects of life – including the very system we depend on for safety, help and protection.

The notion of greatness was a big issue during our nation’s recent election. It’s easy to talk about being great, and argue about what greatness is, but if the defining attribute for our nation is mediocrity, “Making America Great Again” is nothing more than an empty catch phrase.

As a married father with six small children, my experience with 911 Wednesday also emboldened me to encourage my children, all the more, to be excellent with everything they do in this life – to never be mediocre!

Duane Smith is a professor and speaker for Public Speaking Los Angeles.

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