The second Thursday of each November is Guinness World Records Day. Every year, it’s a time when we get to appreciate the marvelous things that people have achieved.
Guinness World Records are known for being awarded for unusual achievements. Guinness World Records
Well, perhaps it isn’t. Apparently, some of the record makers and breakers seem more admirable than others. It’s perfectly possible to appreciate the achievement of a sportsperson like Usain Bolt, for example, who is the only athlete to win the 100m and 200m Olympic titles three times in a row. Running is a tradition that goes all the way back to the Greek Olympic competitions.
But one wonders whether the person who holds the record for growing the largest onion, or the one who holds the record for the most wooden toilet seats broken within a minute using only the forehead, is quite as worthy of our admiration as Bolt is.
The Greek poet Pindar wrote great poems to the athletes of his day. It seems unlikely that anyone today would compose an ode to a man for growing an unusually big vegetable. In other words, some of these Guinness records seem a bit silly.
So, why do people choose to try and attain world record holder status for, to put it kindly, such pointless things? Perhaps the experts can help. Speaking to The Atlantic magazine, Stephen Garcia, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, tried to explain it. “People are always trying to find a way to make themselves seem like they are at the top,” he said.
It’s not that they want to be the best at everything but just to be the best at something. They seek what he calls “optimal distinctiveness.” It seems to them that everyone stands out at something, and these record holders just want to discover what their “something” is.
That means it isn’t just crazy competitiveness that makes people consider spending a huge amount of time, effort and perhaps money being the best at a meaningless thing – like cycling backwards while playing a violin – but a desire to be part of society.
Guinness World Records Day is not only about fun. Above all, it’s about letting people count for something in the world.