Good Enough

by Rebecca Crichton

A favorite New Yorker cartoon depicts two women sitting at a restaurant table, food half-eaten in front of them, the black-coated waiter standing beside the table. The caption reads: “Is anything okay?”

We all recognize this cultural meme. We find fault. Complaint is our common currency.  We scan for what’s wrong and expect ourselves to find it. Not surprisingly, we often do.

It’s the other side of that equation that intrigues me. Okay relates to the concept of Good, a word which we use with both appreciation and dismissal.  

We are taught to strive for being better, best, or whatever the ultimate level of achievement is in any given field. We award and reward athletes and soldiers, students and workers with constant assessment. Ranking and ‘toteming’ help teachers and managers decide who has performed at the level that deserves the prize, the bonus, or the honor.

I am not alone in flailing around the aspirations and expectations of high achievement. I grew up in the numerous hierarchical systems where we are judged on a scale where being declared ‘Good’ is not just faint praise, it is proof we need to improve.

That desire for comparison and competition is so deeply ingrained in being human that it is hard to recognize the suffering created by the constant way we evaluate everything, most of all ourselves.

I remember reading about the Dalai Lama’s befuddlement when a group of therapists asked for his advice about how to treat people who felt unworthy and depressed by their sense of hopelessness and lack of value. He had to ask his translator what they meant. When he finally comprehended what he was hearing, he said: “I don’t understand. Don’t they know they all have Buddha Nature?”

Similar ideas exist in other cultures and faith traditions. Christ Consciousness, Pure Soul, Spark of the Divine all refer to the concept that we are born whole and worthy of lovingkindness and self-compassion.  

Some of the most helpful therapeutic approaches to depression, despair, and hopelessness focus on increased self-acceptance. They encourage developing a strong internal sense of value, not one based on the voices of our childhood or the constant barrage of Social Media comparison and shaming.

Mindfulness, staying in the present, letting us be enough, are familiar techniques that relate to healing and self- acceptance. A famous Buddhist teacher told a student who despaired of ever being a good meditator: “As soon as you start comparing yourself to others, you create suffering.”

After twelve years in the field of aging, I ask myself challenging questions:  What does it mean to lead a Good Life? Or have a Good Death?

Most importantly, I think about the concept of Good Enough. You might know the saying, “Don’t let the Perfect get in the way of the Good.”  Recently a friend said, “Not everything we do needs to done well.” That might be blasphemy to some, but it reminds us that we must accommodate and adapt to what can be done, to what we are able to do.

As I age I am becoming clearer about what is right for me. I listen to other’s suggestions and advice and accept ideas and behaviors I know will benefit me. I ignore the rest. Mainly I listen and thank them for their ideas.

Discerning what is both good and good enough is an approach worth practicing. That clarity can help us stay present and discover what is truly good for us.