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Friday, May 28, 2010

Is Better Really The Enemy of Good?

Airmen take Soldiers to the battlefield

Voltaire is well known for saying, “Better is the enemy of good.”

Lately, I’ll been wrestling with this concept. 

I’ve also thought the opposite.  In fact, when I was in college, someone told me a quote that really stuck with me.  “Good is the enemy of excellent.”

So who is right?

First, let me say that Voltaire certainly had a point.  We can kill ourselves over perfection.  Perfection is exhausting.  Perfection is mind numbing.  Perfection is even paralyzing.

I would fully agree with Voltaire had he said, “Perfection is the enemy of very good.”  But that wasn’t his point.  His point (I think) is that human nature is such that we always feel like we can make it better, and better often gets in the way of good. 

It’s a fair point.  But I still can’t agree.  Not completely.

Most of us will settle for something good and miss out on something great.  Why?  Well, it’s pretty scary to give up something good.  Greatness usually involves risk.  Greatness involves uncertainty.  Greatness involves stepping out on a limb.  You know the phrase, “No guts, no glory.”

As we head into Memorial Day weekend, it’s fitting to reflect on guts and sacrifice and courage.  Would we enjoy the same freedoms today if our founders simply said, “You know, I think things are good enough the way they are?”


Alison said...

I like those thoughts. I think "better" holds true to its definition only when the motivation and intention comes from a genuine, authentic place. Not one that is contrived or influenced by the wrong things. Enjoy your long weekend. I hope to see you poolside :)

Susan DiMickele said...

I will be poolside tomorrow. See you then!

Laura said...

I have to agree with you, Susan! I'm generally not much of a perfectionist, until it comes to something I love. I think that's why God gave us all different we can be "better" at the thing we love. Makes a better world, I think!

Now I'm off to find your Barbie post :)

Laura said...

This raises a lot of questions. Knowing Voltaire's writings, there are any number of things he could have meant!

But I do agree that excellence is necessary for the things we value. Lately I've been struck by how little excellence we demand in our marriages -- as if they'll just take care of themselves. As a mom, it's easy to get a little too busy for excellence. I just posted, and it looks like great minds think alike!