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When Is the Good, Good Enough?

When Is the Good, Good Enough?

A “Frank and Ernest” cartoon features the two characters greeting the pastor at the door after church and one says, “I don’t want to be a saint or anything … Can I just live life pass-fail?”

There are good reasons for taking a class pass-fail, like testing the waters for interest and talent before investing time and energy in its pursuit.

Students have to take the course seriously enough to get a passing grade (and so the credits) but not suffer the consequences on their GPA if it just isn’t their thing. A pretty good deal.

Or maybe signing up pass-fail is just an indication of our general laziness, like not wanting to be a saint, not really (no surprise there, sainthood not being a high-demand pursuit), in which case pass-fail sounds suspiciously like “let’s not take ourselves too seriously.” I hear people say that and I bite my tongue and grind my teeth. After all, if we don’t take ourselves or our work or the assignment at hand with utmost seriousness, then no one else will, either (which, when you think about it, let’s everyone off the hook). Not a bad deal.

A step up from not taking ourselves too seriously but still escaping the demands of full sainthood is the middle ground of the “good” (which easily equates to “good enough”). As we know, the “perfect is the enemy of the good,” and sainthood being a kind of perfection and so beyond the reach of most of us imperfect souls, the “good” might not only be “good enough” but the best for what we might hope generally. This is not exactly the pathway to sainthood or stardom, but being eminently realistic and practical, it most certainly promotes better mental health and probably comes with more friends.

Unless, however, “good enough” is code for “we’ll muddle through,” a pretty low bar overall, in which case one may as well take the “F” and be done with it.

The slippery slope notwithstanding, pass-fail has its advantages, and actually, the older I get, the better does that deal looks to me. I don’t feel like I’ve slipped to the muddle-through level, but I’m still left wondering, when is the good, good enough?