What is enough? What is good enough?

“That’s because Aussies are racist, aren’t they?” he said. “If it wasn’t the Abos it’d be the Italians or the Yugoslavs. They need someone to hate.” — Paul Theroux (b. 1941)


Elizabeth Ellis The Good WifeA Job Corps trainer asked the trainee, “Who told you you weren’t good enough?” What that client believed affected her outcome. Belief made it so. “What we believe affects our physiology,” Sue Grafton wrote.

Why should it have been so hard for someone to dare for no profit or gain to tell that client or another person that they are good? “How little it takes to break the human heart,” Umashankur Joshi of India wrote, “a word half spoken, a word unspoken.”

Consider what it took to break that Job Corps client’s spunk. Consider how easily a smile can brighten someone’s day. “We’ve all felt humiliated at some point, we’ve all felt that we weren’t attractive enough or attractive in the right way, we’ve all wanted a bit more love.” (A. Patchett)

“Feeling good about yourself, there’s less need to impress others.” (Richard Hansen) My parents preached, “Don’t think too much of yourself,” but the outcome of that (Motivational author Louise Hay (b. 1926) wrote of her clients) is that everyone thinks they’re not good enough.

Feelings are contagious, Dr. Willard Gaylin wrote. We do thrive on partner appreciation. We do care what people think, but “Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner,” Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu advised.

We do strive for parental approval. Georgetown University Professor Deborah Tannen wrote of siblings, “It is a universal tendency to feel slighted when someone else is praised.” Part of becoming socialized to live with others means we can’t always have our way, e.g., a child will take another child’s toy, and his/her frustrated desire (“No, you can’t!”) has to be tolerated in order to live in social commune.

“We are all a paradoxical bundle,” Buddhist Pema Chodron wrote, “of rich potential that consists of both neuroses and wisdom.” Who will develop us? Support us? A young man said, “It would be nice if a child had parents who supported their musical or athletic struggle.”

Consider my friend’s spirit. “What did you learn from organized athletics?” I asked him.

“I learned commitment,” he said. “Maybe if I’d have learned that at the high school level I’d be a pro-athlete, but they had no expectation for us [Black people.]”

“Perhaps the most common refrain I hear,” Bishop T.D. Jakes said of counseling people, “involves regret [that] out of fear of rejection they didn’t speak up; out of fear of failure they didn’t step out; out of fear of being alone they didn’t tell the truth.” 

Can the mind delude itself? Easy seduction, to paraphrase Nicholas Carr, is the outcome of delusion, the willingness and ability to sway from our moral and ethical compass, i.e., what we want to believe trumps truth and fact.

The mind is, after all, “a dangerous place to be alone without supervision.” (Ramsey County supervisor) It was suggested at a recent seminar on violence and suicide that instead of mental illness we dub it brain illness. “The vacant mind …always becomes morbid,” Tony Horwitz wrote, “and turns inward to prey on itself.” 

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell; a hell of heaven.” (Milton, 1608-1674) Contemporary psychologist Susan Jeffers says we create our own reality.  A.I. Ellis (1913-2007) coined his theory Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy that your feelings and not the event itself give meaning to an event. In the event a soldier faces combat in war time Norman Mailer (1923-2007) wrote, “He [is] bothered often by a secret guilt. If he wasn’t good enough he should be busted, and he was trying to conceal it.” 

Your definition of yourself has to come from you. Others can offer input, voice opinions and observations, yes, but you have to build the foundation. A female U of M student, after turning in a form, said, “I just made a major life decision and I feel nothing.” (“Overheard around campus,” www.mndaily.com) The outcome and the summation of her decisions — and yours — form the mortar and brickwork of the temple you built. “Perhaps a soul is what you have spent your life making.” (Bob Shacochis)


Elizabeth Ellis is a Baby Boomer with a BA, born in Minneapolis and mother of three grown children. She welcomes reader responses to ellisea51@gmail.com.