What does “good enough” mean?

Most of us hear the expression “good enough” as rather negative. We tend to associate it with not being good enough. We hear the expression in almost every corner of our lives. We can be “not good enough” to get the job we want, the relationship we crave, to win a competition we are in, to understand a complicated issue or concept – all of which represent failure on some level. If we hear those messages long enough, we start to believe them. In truth, and in a very specific sense, especially early in life there are things we aren’t good enough to effectively engage, either because we lack knowledge, or skills, or experience in a particular area. We will always have areas where we aren’t good enough to do something. Running a four minute mile is something most of us will never do. Then again, most of us aren’t losing a whole lot of sleep over that fact!

There’s another “good enough” that we often ignore. Even worse, we may be blind to it! American Tibetan Buddhist Lama Surya Das, when asked if he was enlightened, responded, “I am enlightened enough.” Since enlightenment is seen as a kind of perfection, we might paraphrase this exchange as someone asking if we are perfect and our response being that we are perfect enough. In this way we see that, in common thought, being good enough has come to mean that we are perfect, able to handle anything that may arise, never hesitant or doubting. Can you see that for the distortion it is? None of us are perfect, and so if someone comes along and asks if we are perfect the best response may be laughter.

Imagine if we stopped beating ourselves up for not being something nobody is! We don’t feel bad about being less than eight feet tall. We can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound and we aren’t faster than a speeding locomotive, but we don’t feel bad about not being Superman. If we are asked if we are Superman, slightly disguised in the “good enough” language, we shouldn’t feel bad about answering “no” to that question, either. What would happen if we came to understand that we are all good enough to put forth our best effort, and that is the only good enough that mattered? What would happen if we stopped looking for the things we cannot accomplish and instead started focusing on the things we can do? What if we extended the same courtesy to others?

What would happen is that we would shift our current cultural focus on what is lacking to what is present, from the impossible to the possible, from the ugly to the beautiful that dwells in each of us. We should be aware that our minds are programmed from Neanderthal days to look for the things that are different or lacking and so might be threatening. Given that most of us don’t have to worry about being eaten by sabre tooth tigers, maybe we could start to surrender all of our Neanderthal practices. If we don’t, we are putting an artificial cap on our potential, our progress, and our happiness.

We Choose

These days we hear many people complaining about negativity in the news. This person acts out, the media pick the story up, we read it, and we complain. The place to break the cycle is in what we choose to read, what we choose to click on to learn more. Is it any surprise that politicians say outrageous things? Of course not. Why do they say outrageous things? They say outrageous things for the same reason that toddlers misbehave – to get attention. Worst of all, it works! Every day on social media people are outraged because of the horrible things someone else has said, but we read the article!

personatlaptopOn the other hand, when people do good things or say good things we find it boring and so we don’t read the article, we don’t click on the link, and then we wonder why we don’t see positive news! If we want to change this, we need to think like a news producer or a webmaster. Clicks sell. If you want to change what you see, change your choices. Do we really need to read another article to learn that the man occupying the white house is a horrible human being? Of course not – so stop reading about his antics. Are those stories about people doing good things boring? If you want to change what you see, it doesn’t really matter – click on them anyway. Nobody can tell whether you read the article at the other end of that link or not, but advertising is sold based on how many people visit the site.

We need to recognize that in a consumer driven society like ours we really do have a voice. Very often, the power of that voice is driven by the choices we make every day. These are choices about what we read, what we watch, what links we click. Those choices have more immediate impact than a boycott ever could, and they are much easier to organize. Just click!

You Aren’t Defective

This post is the first in a series of occasional posts about the future of religion and spirituality in Western civilization.

I have long been of the opinion that, before it is possible to build something healthy to replace something that is in the process of dying, it is important to clear up mistaken notions from the dearly departing tradition. Nothing from the death rattles of institutional religion is more harmful than the idea that human beings are inherently broken.

calvin matt lauerThis belief takes many forms in different traditions, but perhaps the best well known in the idea of Original Sin in Christianity. Less well known, but even more dysfunctional, is the Calvinist Christian notion of the total depravity of humanity, often expressed with the delightful metaphor that we are “worms.” Coming in a close second is Luther’s preoccupation with feces and bowel movements, which led to some very unfortunate metaphors indeed.

All of these beliefs stink. The fact is that the idea that human beings are inherently defective is not only inaccurate, but harmful because it removes all hope. There isn’t any objective support for any of these notions in the scriptures of any tradition, leaving us to conclude that they are projections unfortunately recorded by their authors that caught on. Particularly for those ideas that caught on in the Middle Ages, it’s not hard to understand why they became popular. When everyone around you is dropping dead from one or another plague, it’s easier to hold onto a lousy explanation than to sit with a mystery. What’s more, Neuroscientists tell us that the human mind has a bias toward the negative. It is easier for us to understand and recall the very things which tear us down than those that lift us up.

You can’t have a healthy spirituality if that spirituality doesn’t recognize that its adherents can, in fact, be healthy! A religion that understands its primary task as undercutting the hope of its members is little more than an enemy of those same people. Do human beings make mistakes? Of course we do, some of us quite frequently, but it is in making those mistakes that we learn an grow. That means that even mistakes are good things.

The next time someone tries to peddle you some nonsense about how bad we all are, send them packing. You deserve better. More importantly, you need better.

Behavior Police

If you are one of those people who patrol the Internet looking for things you don’t agree with in the Hope’s of finding someone doing something you don’t agree with so you can “correct” them, I have a suggestion. Just stop. Find a hobby, grab a good book, learn to knit, or buy some rechargeable batteries for your vibrator. Maybe do all of the above plus a few more. There is nothing about policing the choices other adults make that causes you to grow and become more fulfilled. Instead, those behaviors will isolate you from friends, family, and the people you happen to meet because you will develop a negative perspective that looks for what you believe is wrong with the world. A much healthier choice is to celebrate the things that are right with the world.