Saturday, July 18, 2009

Good vs. Great

(News-Herald, July 16) I am a big fan of excellence, of the pursuit of what is great and extraordinary. But at the same, time I don’t like it when that pursuit becomes extreme and unhealthy.
How can it be bad to pursue excellence?
There’s a saying about the good driving out the great; people’s willingness to settle for the merely good keeps them from pursuing what could be great.
I certainly see plenty of this in my classroom. Students routinely create essays that are okay, but if they had kept working and hadn’t settled for “okay” they could have produced some really excellent work.
But sometimes the reverse is true. In our desire to settle for nothing but the very best, we overlook some of what is really good. Some folks become so pathological in their quest for absolute perfection that they miss out on Very Good Experiences.
In severe cases, these people become perpetual dropouts, leaving homes, jobs, spouses in an endless search, fueled by the belief that somewhere out there is a job/town/person who is just so totally awesomely perfect that nothing else will do.
You can spot these folks by their use of the word “settle” as if settling were both tragic and contemptible. They say “I will not settle” in the same tone you’d use for “I will not stick my head in the septic tank.’
At its worst, this desire for Only Excellence leads to people bound and determined to convince themselves that what they’re experiencing is titanic, monumental, awesomely great beyond all cosmic levels of intergalactic awesomeosity. This inflationary appreciation cheapens everything.
I am a standing ovation scrooge. I stand and applaud only when I’ve seen something exceptional and extraordinary. If I explain this, folks look at me as if I am a big fat meany, as if it’s cruel NOT to tell a performer that he just gave the best performance in the history of the universe.
At what point did “You did a really good job” become an insult?
Overpraising not only cheapens the praise, but it calls into question the judgment of the person delivering it. Suppose I’ve just played a session of jazz trombone. If you tell me you really enjoyed it and think I did a great job, I’ll be pleased and flattered. If you tell me that I just played the most awesome jazz trombone you ever heard in your life, I’ll be thinking that you have A) a sad life and B) little knowledge of jazz trombone playing.
It really is okay to be “just” good.
The Franklin Silver Cornet Band has performed thousands of concerts. Only one of those could be the Best Concert the Band Ever Played. Franklin Civic Operetta has presented hundreds of shows. Only one of those can be the Best Show that Civic Ever Put On. Pride should come from a consistent level of excellence, not a focus on one single peak.
I’ve lived through roughly 19,000 days so far. Only one of those can be the Best Day of My Life. Now, I could focus on that single day, or I could keep crowning a new champion Best Day Ever, but either way, I’m passing over 18,999 perfectly good days (okay, maybe 18, 253 perfectly good days—some of them weren’t so hot).
I think those who constantly carp about our region suffer from a touch of this problem. If we can’t tout Venangoland as the Greatest This or the Best Ever That, the reasoning goes, then this place must just stink.
Well, there’s something to be said for settling. Still push for your best. Still strive for excellence. But people who refuse to marry anyone but the Most Perfect Partner will die grumpy and alone. Parents who insist their children be The Most Perfect Ever will drive those children away. People who think every day must be the Best Day Ever will have many, many bad days. People who must live in a Perfect Place will move a lot, and die either disappointed or deluded.
Sometimes Really Good is good enough. There is no shame in living a life that is just as good as you could make it, even if it’s not the Greatest Life On Earth. There are so many reasons to be proud of our corner of the world. There’s no excuse not to keep trying to move forward, make things better. But there’s also no excuse not to settle for a place that’s really good, even if it’s not the Greatest Spot on Earth.

No comments:

From my Flickr