One of the true pleasures in reading is that you never know what you will find, especially when you anticipate certain findings. I find this to be true whether reading fiction or non-fiction. For that reason, I purposely try to read of mix of both. And sometimes it’s not even the plot or the substance of the book but the prose or quotes quoted that can leave a lasting impression. The writer’s style, humanity, and/or their observations of others can be pure delight and reveal something that I never thought of and likely would not have considered. Words can be so powerful, especially when they can be translated into action.
I had such an experience with my current non-fiction book, The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir by Samantha Power. Her storytelling along with her analyses of those folks in her life puts the reader right into her life at every stage—from an anguished childhood to an active student to the budding of her career as an engaged journalist and human rights crusader to an author exposing the horrors of genocide to being the US ambassador to the United Nations during the latter half of the Obama administration. I was and am enthralled with her story and her writing.
And that gets me to my original point. Halfway through the book, she recounts that she was discussing with President Obama her frustration about the lack of progress on specific issues regarding discrimination. She notes that he often told her that “better is good, and better is actually a lot harder than worse.” That quote took me by surprise. Let me break it down.
- As a fellow idealist, I was always striving for the “best” results in my career with regard to actions and policies, and to this day, continue to seek the best possible outcome on behalf of children and families. Yet sometimes, based on a variety of circumstances, better is the most realistic outcome at the time.
- Better is good does not imply accepting mediocre solutions. Better is good might be a significant improvement from the former state and might represent the type of incremental change that is only possible with a lot of effort.
- Better is good should not represent defeat. Indeed, better is good might be a triumphant stage in the overall goal sought. But better is not an acceptable stopping point.
- Without seeking to do better, one might end up with a worse result or a worse status report. Hence, better is harder to achieve than worse since worse will just happen. Doing nothing and not striving to do better might lead to a worse situation with giant steps backward from the sought-after outcome(s).
This quote strikes a real chord with me. As a pediatric advocate/activist, I easily get frustrated with the lack of progress with issues that I and other like-minded individuals are so deeply committed to – Why are more children not vaccinated? Why did we not take more seriously the need for children to wear masks for COVID-19 protection? Why are so many children and families lacking acceptable health care? Why are so many families living in poverty? Why do so many children die from gun violence? Why is racism still a blight on our society?…and on and on.
You can probably sense my frustration, but I need to take a step back. When I look back at the life of Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. or John Lewis, I realize by their words and actions that “better is good” was often the next acceptable step, and that “better is actually a lot harder than worse” was so true.
“Better is good” can be a soothing balm for those in engaged in civil/human rights. It is never an endpoint, but it certainly can provide some comfort if things do not get worse and provide encouragement for the continued “good fight” done on behalf of those whose lives we seek to improve. My thanks to Samantha Power and Barack Obama. These are words that can be translated into action.