By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index
I used to work with a guy whose near-automatic response to almost every situation, no matter how difficult or frustrating, was “It’s all good”.
It seemed obvious to me that many encounters and situations were in fact NOT “good” – in the stream of encounters and situations of a typical week it is painfully obvious that there is rarely a “theme” inherent as events unfold over time. It’s NOT all good.
In fact, it’s not all anything.
We use phrases like this to makes sense of, to justify, and often, to confirm what we believe. Or want to believe.
It’s not all good. But it’s not all bad either.
I must admit that I’ve never understood what “It’s all good” was meant to convey. Did it mean that no matter how hard a situation one faces, it will all turn out to be a positive experience? Or that everything is actually good, if only we could see it that way? Or that everything that happens “should have been” good?
It’s not all bad
“It’s all good” was a popular phrase before the pandemic emerged, before we saw supply chain problems impacting everything from toilet paper to baby formula. In other words, that phrase came easily from many people because, compared to what was to follow, they had been facing relatively unchallenging circumstances.
To put it another way, in a peculiarly lazy leap of logic, anything difficult is “bad” and anything easy is “good”. Which is patently ridiculous.
Difficult challenges in life may not always be welcome, but, at minimum, we can learn from them.
Any researcher or anyone paying attention in their life knows one recurring, relentless principle; we learn far more from our mistakes than from our successes.
And an important corollary guideline; we appreciate something we have worked for far more than something we have been given. In other words, something difficult to achieve, or inherently rare, is for that reason if nothing else, of more value.
When I heard my co-worker say that phrase, I wanted him to be more specific – especially in the direction of solving the problem. Perhaps what he meant was that, eventually, if we survive, and even better, if we can put the experience behind us, it is all good.
All generalities are false
My gripe isn’t against that specific phrase, but any phrases that, in their bland meaninglessness, say little, if anything. The academic term for these stock phrases is glittering generalities. They are shiny, appealing and, in almost every case, completely void of meaning.
They are used continually in advertising and politics.
From “Just Do It” (Nike) to “I’m Lovin’ It” (McDonalds) to “The Buck Stops Here” (Harry Truman) we hear, use, and mechanically repeat these slogans as if they held any kind of meaning. They are usually dropped as quickly as they were embraced.
Maybe they did at some time, but the shelf-life of these phrases is often mercifully short.
When I hear these phrases, they are usually spoken with passion – as if they were the result of a great revelation or discovery.
We fall into using phrases like this because they easily slide into our conversations and confirm our biases.
Slogans are where thinking stops
I don’t dislike these phrases and slogans because I disagree with them (there is rarely, if ever, enough information to disagree with) but I dislike them precisely because they are empty, and, if anything, only reflect the already held assumptions of those who repeat them.
When you hear, or find yourself tempted to repeat these slogans, stop and ask yourself whether the words you find so appealing contain factual information or if they represent a glittering generality – with little to no actual meaning.
Some questions to keep in minds are;
What is the literal meaning of this phrase or slogan?
What is the motivation of the person or organization that the message comes from?
Does the slogan convey a substantive message, or is it just designed to stir an emotional reaction?
What substantive action, if any, is being proposed or suggested by the statement?
Would you still find the saying to be appealing if it came from a different source?
In short, do yourself a favor and avoid future embarrassment by using words and phrases that hold actual meaning and, if that is your intention, stir others to specific action.
To persuade, to inform or to entertain
Any communication, especially those that represent what we believe or care about should express at least one (and, at best all three) of these communication principles – to persuade, to inform or to entertain.
Anything else is just noise.