Ulrich Makes a Discovery

Ulrich discovers what makes the average man so…average.

“A young man with an active mind,” Ulrich reflected, probably still thinking of his boyhood friend Walter, “is constantly sending out ideas in every direction. But only those that find a resonance in his environment will be reflected back to him and consolidate, while all the other dispatches are scattered in space and lost!” Ulrich took it as a matter of course that a man who has intellect has all kinds of intellect, so that intellect is more original than qualities. He himself was a man of many contradictions and supposed that all the qualities that have ever manifested themselves in human beings lie close together in every man’s mind, if he has a mind at all. This may not be quite right, but what we know about the origin of good and evil suggests that while everyone has a mind of a certain size, he can still probably wear a great variety of clothing in that size, if fate so determines. And so Ulrich felt that what he had just thought was not entirely without significance. For if, in the course¬† of time, commonplace and impersonal ideas are automatically reinforced while unusual ideas fade away, so that almost everyone, with a mechanical certainty, is bound to become increasingly mediocre, this explains why, despite the thousandfold possibilities available to everyone, the average human being is in fact average. And it also explains why even among those privileged persons who make a place for themselves and achieve recognition there will found a certain mixture of about 51 percent depth and 49 percent shallowness, which is the most successful of all. Ulrich had perceived this for a long time as so intricately senseless and unbearably sad that he would have gladly gone on thinking about it. (I,121)


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