Good enough

Everything goes better with simplicity. That’s why I changed this blog’s original title, “Abstract Utility,” which was a bit too, um, well, abstract. The new name is “good enough,” a useful way to look at life. I also added a tag line, “a blog about books, ideas, and the good life.” That’s what I tend to write about here. This month I read three books that infused brilliantly within my worldview and inspired me to change this blog’s name, look and feel: In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore, Enough by Bill McKibben, and You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier.

Each book shares a core value about the pleasure and mystery of being human. Honore’s book is about the worldwide movement to slow down and enjoy life. McKibben’s book from a decade ago warns us that we’ll lose our identity as humans once genetic engineering and artificial intelligence converge. Lanier’s book is about how our much hyped internet has become a disappointing slum where humans are devalued and the anti-human “hive mind” reigns.

Each book taught me in different ways that it’s OK to reject biotechnology and Silicon Valley’s vision for the future, that it is all right to be imperfect and slow, and that each person has inherent qualities that risk being blurred by the web. They complement each other and reinforce the idea that more, faster, better, stronger, healthier, prettier, richer, etc., etc. etc. are a road to ruin when pursued to excess. Each person has the power to invert this sad aspect of the human condition by saying “good enough,” when it happens to be true.

“Good enough,” the idea,  helps people establish lasting wealth because they are no longer trapped in the consumerist vortex. It helps folks improve their lives by managing technology, not the opposite. It opens up human relationships because it permits honest listening. Instead of just waiting for the other person to finish speaking to say more, it opens the ears and the heart. It limits disappointment and promotes satisfaction.

I realize that, particularly for young people, this might be horrible advice. There’s still something to be said for motivated striving, getting good grades, making it into good schools, but only to the “enough” point. The standard thinking in America is better to overshoot than to fall short of “enough.” But I think that programming is responsible for a great deal of misery. Each of us can be the judge of what’s good enough for us. Our lives are short, but at least we have this ability to discern between “more” and “enough.”

A good example of how to choose enough: slow down while driving. Be courteous to pedestrians and bikers. One of my neighbors was a royal jerk yesterday. It infuriated me that he tailgated behind me in his SUV, obviously wanting me to speed up on the 15-miles-per-hour street where I live. Then when I reverse parked in front of my house, which slowed him down further, he felt it necessary to spend a few second staring me down. Why was all this anger created? Why does he need to get home 15 seconds faster? Why did I need to get angry as well, about someone who lives a half block from me (though I don’t know him)? All this flare-up could be reduced with a little dose of “good enough.”

So here’s my good enough: even though my neighbor pissed me off, I’m going to forgive him. I like where I live in Rockville, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC. My neighbors don’t need to be perfect. Most of them are great. Things are tranquil and carefree. Plus I live a pleasant five-minute walk from the bus that takes me to work. Since it’s the start of the line, I always have a seat, which means I can read.

See? “Good enough” is a powerful idea. It may not be what industry wants, and it definitely isn’t what we learn in school or on TV, but it works for me.

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