Saturday 26 September 2015

Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On

A few days ago I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, say on the radio that he wanted Britain to be a leader in areas such as business and technology. This was part of the reason for Mr Osborne's cap-in-hand trip to China.

That left me thinking about Icarus. If you remember the tale well, he tried to escape from Crete with wings of wax but flew so high that his wings melted from the heat of the sun and he fell into the sea and died.

Is Mr Osborne thinking of equipping British businesses with wax wings?

When did “good enough” become “bad”?

As a long-time UK-resident I want my economy to work. Whether it stands out in Europe or it does not, I could not give two monkeys. I want it to work for those who live in Britain, whether born here or not. I want the economy to yield profit-making businesses – especially socially-minded – that contribute to the public kitty. I want it to grow, but not out of control, not in a borrow-and-I-will-pay-later-if-I-can way but in pragmatic, objective manner. I want there to be independent bodies for spotting and correcting errors. There will be wobbles in this economy I want (which economy has not got wobbles?) but they will be transitory and not too difficult to overcome. There will also be highlights, but not of the type that will make fellow denizens wish to live in a highlight-chasing society but the ones you enjoy with a cuppa and a biscuit. Then, we all move on and plod along.

Instead, what I keep hearing from headline-grabbing George Osborne is that we, the UK, should lead the world in whatever the government decides next: nuclear energy, arms trade, refugees’ resettlement? Oh, no, sorry, not that last one. Beg your pardon. We definitely do not want to lead in that area.

I want a functional economy in a functional country. I value that more than the “outstanding”, the “extraordinary” and the “excellent”. I am not averse to these traits; I am, however, wary of the effects in chasing them. Market domination might be good for shareholders but it makes no difference to Joe or Joanna Public. They still have to choose between supermarket own brand or top range when doing their shopping. Of decisions like this one is life for the majority of us made.

When people ask me about what sort of society I would like Cuba to become when Fidel finally kicks the bucket and there is no more Raúl and his crooks, my answer is always the same: a working system. A working system does exactly what says on the tin. It works for everybody or for most people. It is difficult to achieve this when those in power are more concerned about capturing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Would it not be better to have just eggs, pure and simple?

When my son was little, my wife and I used to take him to a session with other children and their parents. I remember talking to another parent once and telling this person that my aspiration – at the time – was to be a “good enough” parent. This person got worked up somewhat and told me that their aspiration was to be “the best” parent ever. That comment and the strength with which it was said struck me as funny. My first thought was that this person was setting her/himself up for failure. No one can be the best all the time. Especially parents. My second thought was: what happened to “good enough”?

It is a question that has come back to haunt me recently for reasons I will not discuss in this post. But the premise of my column tonight remains the same: “average” is no longer enough. Some people really want to know why you are not excellent, extraordinary or outstanding. The issue is that this sadly sends out the wrong message as people misunderstand what “average” means and what it represents. I live an average life in the UK. I make no excuses for it. Even when I go back to Cuba I tell people what I do for a living, what we get up to at weekends and what we spend our money on. The irony is that my lifestyle seems extraordinary, even rich, to some of my fellow country-women and men.

Sky's new slogan is "believe in better". I sometimes do believe in better. Chiefly when it comes to sports; I would like my beloved Yankees to make it to the play-offs, Chelsea to win the English Premier League again this season and my hometown baseball team, Industriales, to add another pennant to their trophy cabinet. But in most areas of my life I believe that "good enough" is, pardon the repetition, good. Why soar when you can fly in a straight line and get to your destination quicker and safer? I am not advocating a risk-free life, but a good-enough attitude. If you need some advice, ask Icarus.

© 2015

Next Post: “London, my London”, to be published on Wednesday 30th September at 6pm (GMT)


  1. Yes, blind devotion to extremes is ruining everything! We need more of the attitude you advocate


  2. Yes!!!
    Chasing excellence involves risks, and too often creates big, big losers.
    A functional average is more than good enough for me. And rare. Just 'functional' is becoming exceptional. And rare.

  3. Hey Cubano--I am also a big believer in good enough. Even "better than it was" is something! And a boom or bust economy is very worrisome (and seems to be a bit of a problem with the way capitalism currently works.) Best parents ever can put an awful lot of pressure on their kids to be best kids ever! Take care, k.

  4. Very interesting food for thought. I need to reflect on this, but on first blush I agree with you.

  5. If you never take the risk you may never get any change. Screw the sun, bring it on, let it melt the wings lol good enough sometime will do though.

  6. If I am understanding you correctly, CiL, this has the ring of some manner of utopian socialism, which surprises me a bit.

    In a governmental sense, you seem to be arguing for Barack Obama's "leading from behind" modus operandi, which conceptually might make sense, but practically speaking is creating turmoil and anarchy on the world stage.

    In a personal sense, whatever your Muse tell you is best for you.

    Anyway, I am left a bit puzzled.

  7. 'd liked to be considered a "pretty good person" Excellence sounds tiring.

  8. All the sensible parenting books talk of being a 'good enough' parent - providing love, stability, and sometimes getting it wrong because we are human. Which also helps children learn that even those they love make mistakes, and it's fine. Also worth remembering that the role of a parent of an adolescent is to be wrong most of the time.

    So why can't economies work in the same way? Providing for society as best it can and mopping up mistakes when they happen? Yet our western economies, based on greed and dissatisfaction to grow (we must always want to buy bigger and better stuff so those who make the stuff can buy stuff of their own) seeps into a collective belief that we, somehow, have to be the best. Bonkers.

  9. Hi ACIL - doing our best, being responsible to others, taking care of others and thinking about them when times are tough. If we all behaved socially responsibly we'd be a lot better off and we'd be happy - happiness is so important ... all the best - Hilary

  10. I'll go with 'good enough' simply because excellence takes a lot of effort to keep up. My life is dedicated to seeing that others have a good life.

  11. good enough is generally good enough for me....

  12. Siempre hay que desear lo mejor en todos los niveles para un progreso en general.
    Que tengas un feliz domingo.

  13. This is actually quite pervasive in society - average is not good enough. Sadly.
    I see the stress of it with my students. I think it is a product of Western mentality
    that says you have to get the latest and greatest. Its Capitalist. And a top down

  14. Absolutely!
    What is all this nonsense about fighting to be "the best" at everything?
    As you so eloquently express it...why is everyone these days hell bent on setting themselves up for failure?
    Because that is all they are doing, isn't it?
    When you think about it...if everyone finally achieves the highly coveted status of "excellent", "outstanding" or a "leader"...then surely, that would only serve to make them all equal and therefore "good enough" - the very label they seem so afraid of attaching to themselves.
    Personally, I find the whole "status" thing totally absurd. All it's pursuit leads to is stress overload...followed by heart disease or stroke.
    We are here to help each other and to enjoy life as much as we can along the way...not to engage in the snobbery of "being the best"...which is a ridiculous notion anyway, because we are ALL excellent at something, in our own way.

    Many thanks for another thought-provoking post, CiL...certainly felt much lighter after getting that off my chest! *smiles*

  15. Good thoughts here. I often wonder why every country wants to be firts and best. I agree with you, even on a personal level, my good enough has to enough in the sense that I need not obsess over being best at anything, just do me best and that is good enough. Well, that was an awkward sentence. You know what I mean.

  16. I agree that trying to be outstanding is not the way to go. It doesn't leave time for anything else, and doesn't leave time to think,and it makes failure such a terrifying prospect that it's hard to innovate. As for being good enough - well, I'm not enough of an economist to say what is wrong with the balance of our economy, but I have a gut feeling that there is something wrong with the balance of it. Savers are unable to stop their savings from declining in value, but house price inflation is at six percent this year on historically very high levels to start with. There are very few desirable properties for sale in central London areas (plenty of dull, cloney overpriced developments which don't suit ordinary families' needs though) and most Londoners who don't already have a permanent home are in despair about ever getting anywhere pleasant where you can raise a family. People who clean the streets and drive the buses can't live near their work and yet these overpriced blocks of "luxury" battery-hen flats are being snapped up by investors, and eating up scarce inner city land. Housing associations are cosying up to the government, selling off their stock as "right to buy" so that councils will have to cut back even further on their social housing to pay for it, so no more affordable housing is coming along. Just a gut feeling that one of these days it's all going to come crashing down. And it isn't good enough, or anything like it. However, we are stuck with Osborne's hubris for another 4 years, it seems.

  17. Inspiring post and great thinking! All the best!

  18. I agree about the idea of a working system! Few ever reach 'outstanding,' but so finding one which works for most, though isn't perfect, is a worthy aim!

  19. "Market domination might be good for shareholders but it makes no difference to Joe or Joanna Public"

    Yes, there's a whole lot of truth in that statement. We seem weighed down by all these adjectives about greatness that "good" starts to sound like a dirty word. We should cut down on the hyperbole and enjoy the average.

  20. I agree on the working system for everyone ~ But what is good enough for others, may not be enough for some as we all have different aspirations and levels of satisfaction ~ I like to aim higher, just a little more, because even if I fail, my landing is somewhere near where I want to go or be focus on ~ But as I said, good enough works for others, while others, it may not be enough ~ An excellent and thoughtful post ~

    I wanted to ask you about the recent migrant exodus to Europe ~ What do you guys think about it?

  21. Agreed - we put far too much pressure on ourselves!

  22. Thank you all for your comments. Really appreciate the diversity of opinions.

    Greetings from London.

  23. Hey Cubano, it is certainly a confusing time. I think that all that voted probably do want as you say--a working economy that works for them and lets them work for it. Nothing so fancy or complex, something that works and allows one to spin one's days with some say in them! Agh. So complicated. Thanks for your post. K.



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