- The better is the enemy of the good
- Posted 12 Jun 2017
First recorded in the West as an Italian proverb in 1603, this idea has been picked up by Voltaire and Shakespeare and many other Western thinkers. Do you have an immediate answer as to what that statement means? Or do you see the ambiguity in the sentence? Which one is the real enemy? Is it goodness, or is it betterment? What does that statement mean to you personally? Does it mean that your insistence on perfection keeps you from creating anything good, or does it mean that if you settle for ‘good’, you will never improve?
In the history of thought, it is generally understood that the former is the intended meaning of this statement. As someone with perfectionist tendencies, I tend to agree with that sentiment, but depending on YOUR natural tendencies, the opposite meaning can be equally valid and equally transformative for you.
Are you a perfectionist who is so demanding of yourself that you keep yourself from doing things you want to do because you think you won’t be able to live up to your own impossible standards?
Or are you a dabbler who happily but mindlessly goes through the motions without being fully engaged, and thus never really gets to the heart of the matter?
What is your prevailing tendency? And here is the real question: What happens when you let go of your prevailing tendency and work with the opposite one for a while?
If you are a dabbler, make this your new mantra: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing it right.”
But if you are a perfectionist, try this one: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing, even if you think you are doing it poorly!”
You may ask, “what does this have to do with yoga?” I find it interesting how often I meet people, who, when they find out that I am a yoga teacher, say something like “yoga sounds great, but I am way too inflexible for it.” Clearly these people are stuck in the mindset of “if I can’t do it well, why bother?” The irony of course is that the people who think they can’t “do” yoga are the ones who can potentially benefit the most from it.
If you are reading this, you are probably not one of these people. Instead you may want to ask yourself if you are striving too much in your practice, whether you tend to be impatient with your progress, loathe poses you haven’t “mastered” yet, compare how you look in certain poses to how your teacher or your fellow students look in them, and find yourself wanting.
Or are you one of those students who is happily doing the collapsed downward dog you have been doing for years, the version that pinches your shoulders, but you don’t really notice because your mind is elsewhere, oblivious of your teacher’s instructions to try the pose a different way, to challenge yourself a bit to move from good enough to better?
As I said, to get the most out of this ambiguity, figure out what you believe this statement means, and then embrace the opposite meaning for a while to see if it takes you out of a stuck place and presents you with opportunities for growth.