There are a lot of people out there in the world confronting the problem of bullying and how it harms the psyches or people young and old. I lived with bullying growing up. Many times I fought back. I’m not saying that I wasn’t afraid, or that I didn’t wind up getting my butt thrashed in one way or another. I was just a competitive kid with a chip on my shoulder that was composed of equal parts family life, native anxiety and 50% mink.
But bullying isn’t the only way that people can cause you to feel anger or want to avoid reality. In some ways it’s far worse when someone tells you that you’re not good enough. During those moments in life you’re faced with just as difficult a choice. You can accept their take on your abilities or you can set out to prove them wrong.
Most people do find a away to prove their detractors wrong. Others let criticism or negativity haunt them the rest of their lives.
Divorce of course
Perhaps the most difficult example of “you’re not good enough” is going through a divorce. I know many people that have gone through that experience and with rare exception, it is a bitter passage. The best outcome is perhaps the ability to remain friends through it all upon realizing that you just weren’t meant for each other in the first place. People make mistakes in relationships and everything else in life.
The worst outcome is the knock-down, drag out type of divorce where scorched earth becomes the goal of one person or both.
I have a wonderfully conservative friend whose son’s marriage to a woman was on the rocks. His advice and help was novel indeed for his son. “I’ll give you $5,000 to get your own apartment and start fresh. Give her everything and just break it off clean,” he advised. And it worked, for the most part.
But the harsh hurt of divorce is the underlying realization that in some way, shape or form, you weren’t good enough for that person, or they weren’t good enough for you. That hurts either way.
Which means struggles with self-image when you start all over again. One of my least favorite moments when swimming is starting over in the middle of the water when for some reason (like a loose set of goggles) I’ve come to a stop.
It’s just not easy to start swimming again. You have to kick and pull and it still takes several strokes to get going again.
It’s even worse in open water when there are dozens of people swimming around you, and you start to feel like an ignoramus for bogging in place to get your bearings. Makes me think of that Brian Wilson/Beach Boys song Til I Die:
I’m a cork on the ocean
Floating over the raging sea
How deep is the ocean?
How deep is the ocean?
I lost my way
Hey hey hey
The pain of self doubt
So it takes a considerable boost to the constitution of self to get going again when things in life slow you down or stop you cold.
That’s because self-esteem can be a fragile thing. When someone coldly tells you that you’re not good enough at something it can raise genuine doubts in your mind. It’s startling how fast that can happen.
For example, if a boss pulls you in and says, “You’re not pulling your weight on this project,” the shock can be devastating. It makes you wonder how many other people might be thinking the same thing…and if they knew or thought that about you, why didn’t they say anything? That seems the cruelest thing of all.
It can be hard to get going again when you feel like everyone has doubts about you. That collective sense of “you’re not good enough” is daunting indeed. The fear that others doubt you or think less of you for some aspect of behavior or even physical appearance can be devastating.
I think back to that period in life when girls of middle school age were all starting to sprout boobs and wonder what that must have been like. There’s literally no control young women have over that aspect of their physical appearance. Of course boys were typically drawn to girls with bigger boobs. The fascination and mystery of all that was profound in both its immaturity and its dismissive ignorance.
I also recall the hissing criticism of certain girls who were considered “flat.” That was the insensitivity of 70s lexicon. Yet I also recall hearing the strong statement of a friend named Holly when she overhead a group of boys discussing breast size during lunch hour. She was a dancer as I recall, and she walked up to the boys, stood there boldly and said, “I may not have a lot, but what I have is quality.” To a person, those guys probably did not know what she meant. But she did, and that’s what ultimately counts.
I have never forgotten that incredible example of courage and the education Holly dished on those guys. By proxy, they were trying to insinuate that Holly was somehow “not good enough” because her breasts were not as large as other girls.
Fortunately, that brand of assessment of the female anatomy is changing at last.
That strong statement by Holly came to mind while watching this weekend’s Ironman World Championships in Kona. Breast size was the least of those women’s concerns as they swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 and ran 26.2. The lead swimmer among women was Lucy Charles, and she swam much faster than a ton of men. Not only that, but she biked all 112 miles well under five hours.
And then ran 26.2 miles at a pace most people would kill to achieve. And as impressive as Lucy Charles was in that race, she finished second.
Perhaps someone would have the gall to dismiss her achievement and tell her that she’ll never be “good enough” to beat Daniela Ryf, the “winner.” Perhaps on that day in Kona, Lucy wasn’t quite fast enough. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t “good enough” in any way, shape or form. Same goes for the hundreds of other age-groupers who, though not blessed with world champion speed, were able to complete the race.
Even those who did not finish got out there and gave it their all.
The lesson here is that the real problem lies not with those who try, or fail. It rests instead with people that have the gall to suggest someone else is not “good enough” in some way. It’s such a common thing that we sometimes take it for granted.
My own son once turned to me and said, “Dad, did you ever notice that when people say ‘good for you’ they’re being condescending?” He was in fifth grade. Yet he’d already picked up on the fact that even ‘well-intentioned’ forms of compliments can amount to insincerity. Hidden in that faint praise was a hint of dismissiveness. That’s not always true when someone says ‘good for you’, but you have to be alert in this world to know what people truly think.
Now grant you, it is the job of the coaches in this world to push an athlete, even to the point of what seems like an insult of sorts if the athlete or an employee is not being honest with themselves. One has to cut through the crap at times to get the message across and produce better results. I once had an editor pass along a piece that I’d written that was clobbered by the Publisher for its vacuous tone. I deserved that criticism. It made me a better writer in the short and long term.
Thus it’s acceptable when critics focus on some aspect of performance, not working hard enough or ignoring the central objective. There is such a thing as legitimate criticism. Only fools and narcissists reject the benefits of such insight. We’ll get to that in a moment.
So this essay is not a call to create some sort of “safe space” in the world. We all deserve and need criticism at times. Constructive or otherwise, it can help us assess our efforts and dial in for better results. But constructive criticism is a far different thing than telling someone, without consideration of that individual or group, that they’re not “good enough” and therefore don’t deserve respect.
It’s the dismissive brand of “you’re not good enough” that deserves resistance. We experience that brand of cynicism at its earliest stages when grade school friendship and jealousies enter the picture. It’s a sad thing to realize those petty jealousies can turn into political divisions, racism, classism or sexism as a product of childishly tribal instincts.
The difficult part at that point is taking the high road. We all know that doesn’t always work. Thus the most satisfying part is taking falsely directed criticism and funneling it into motivation to prove the world wrong when someone suggests you’re not “good enough.”
Good enough or ‘good’ enough?
I’ve thought much about the concept of being good enough in context with the nationally televised testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, whose “word” was apparently “not good enough” to be taken seriously by a group of eleven men passing judgement on her past experience. Instead they provided a “he-said, she-said” stage in which her words were heard but she was not allowed to corroborate them in any way. They initially judged her testimony “not good enough” to merit a corroborative approach.
Instead, they conducted themselves in a specious manner by conducting a hearing that was more a show force. The Senate Judiciary committee was essentially eleven men with their minds already made up against one woman with the courage to stand her ground. The committee even hid behind a “hired gun” female who was doing the dirty work of asking the question. Thus we learned how the “system” really works when it is confronted by a threat to its power. It runs and hides like a bunch of little boys who broke something valuable and don’t want to admit it.
That valuable thing was the trust of America. We learned that the word of millions of women would never be good enough to be trusted by men who feel they deserve the right to hide behind whatever construct they choose to categorize as a “defense” and still claim accountability. The promised FBI “investigation” following the initial testimony of Kavanaugh and Ford was just an extension of that farce, mere stagecraft for a political agenda on full display. It did nothing to reconcile the gap between what she said and what Kavanaugh screamed and cried in return.
We bore witness to a guy lying about the brutal habits of his unbridled childhood. He even lied about the meaning of the terms used to disparage women. Perhaps Kavanaugh grew into roles of responsibility and better judgment later in life. He certainly was not willing to cop to his poor judgment early in life. That may be the worst aspect of the whole sordid affair. Can a man that has not reconciled his past to his present really be a good judge of law and human character? It’s frankly doubtful that he can. It is much more likely that he’ll grow ever more arch in his convictions and increasingly partisan to defend the supposed honor that he lost due to his own lack of contrition. That is the way of authoritarians trying to compensate for personal failures.
Kavanaugh’s principal (not exactly principled) defense was that his character was being assassinated by the nature of the accusations. But that deflection still didn’t legitimately answer the question: “Did you attempt to rape her? Have you lied about it?”
He says he didn’t. And in a rush to judgement, the Judiciary committee partisanly took his word over hers. We all know that it’s “innocent until proven guilty” in America. But what if no real effort was made to prove innocence or guilt? What then?
Sorry, Christine, you just weren’t good enough
Rather than pursue those questions to their legitimate (and legal) end, the so-called Judiciary Committee instead shoved Christine Blasey Ford aside and said “Thanks, but your word just isn’t good enough.”
Which forces us all to ask a different kind of question, “If justice can’t genuinely be served by a Judiciary Committee, are the people leading this country genuinely good enough to deserve the job?”
Gut check time
That’s why November 6 in America is a gut check on whether the nation itself is good enough (which means something entirely different, mind you…) to carry on the system of democracy created by its Founding Fathers and the republic upon which it depends.
Is there enough good left in this country to resist those who abide in ownership of power at any cost, and who seem to worship a narcissist willing to tell people, every day of his life that they’re not good enough to deserve respect, much less a place at the table?
How it all fits together
How does all this tie together? The same man who is known for judging women solely by their looks is also known to criticize, use and discard all those people (both men and women), with whom he grows bored or disenchanted. Typically, they fall into a familiar category of criticism. They just weren’t good enough for Trump. That’s what Trump said about John McCain: “I prefer the ones that weren’t captured.” In other words, suffering torture and captivity as a member of our armed forces was not “good enough” for Trump. Neither are the guys who kneel at NFL games in protest of racial inequality. Not good enough for Trump either.
And when someone isn’t “good enough” for Trump he attempts to shove them out of the way. He’s also paid women to silence them, and refused to pay those who actually do work for him. Think about that for a moment, and consider what the symbolized. Even people that had a contract and finished the work as promised for Trump were not deemed worthy of being paid the full amount promised them when they took the job. What kind of corrupt character does it take to justify that brand of selfishness?
That’s ultimately what deserves investigation, because Trump’s word clearly cannot be trusted on any aspect of his personal or professional behavior. We are forced to ask: How might he be bilking America as well? Is this presidency thing just a scam to get richer?
That’s what’s on the block, and it is stunning that some otherwise honorable women and men (Trump supporters) still seem to abide by placing trust in a man and a puppy dog Congress and Senate that has such low regard for women. Only those willing to compromise their values and integrity to join his version of authoritarian rule are welcome, and that 41% has been loyal as a pack junkyard dogs being fed scraps of red meat. That’s what those Trump rallies are all about. Red meat and promises of more. So much winning.
We heard the belief system of our Narcissist in Chief last night in a 60Minutes interview. He gave us an abject indication of what he really thinks about, and the shallow depth of his values when asked if he cared about how he mocks and belittles others, and he said: “We won.”
In other words. Screw anyone that does not agree with me. You’re not good enough.
How’s that really make you feel, America? Is this really winning, or is Trump leading us down a shithole of his own making, and dragging you with it? Hope you’re proud, and it seems that many people are.
But we’re warning you, MAGA fans. the farmers in America recently got a taste of Trump’s dismissive policies, and you’re next. We’re living now in the land of promises made to be broken. That’s because no one is good enough to deserve respect in Trump’s America. He’s in this only for himself. The rest is just wishful thinking, and that’s not good (enough) for anyone.