2002.07.03 When bad is good

Written by David Green.

I can't dance, I can't talk.

Only thing about me is the way I walk.

I can't dance, I can't sing.


If you can talk, you can sing. If you can walk, you can dance.

—Zimbabwean saying


If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.

Ever hear that quote? I’ve seen it several times but I don’t remember where or in what context. The first time I read it, I was sure that either a copy editor had slipped up or somebody was playing a joke. It made no sense to me—even made me a bit angry. What a bunch of crap, is what I thought. That attitude just gives a person license to not do a good job. My philosophy runs more in the vein of: if you’re going to do something, do it right or don’t bother doing it at all.

I’m not sure where I developed this outlook. My mother wasn’t very hard-nosed or rigid about us performing perfectly. She had specific ways of doing things, such as folding towels—in thirds the long way and then folding the length in thirds—but I don’t recall her ever berating anybody for less than perfect work.

Perhaps the New York City school system ingrained it in me. I certainly remember Miss Mulvey haranguing me in third grade to re-do my penmanship when I got done early. There was no pleasing Miss Mulvey—she held us to an exacting standard. Maybe I just enjoy that delightful feeling of coming close to the perfect way I envision something; being able to achieve what I perceive.

Why aim for anything less than the beauty of perfection? That’s how I’ve always felt. Well, one reason is that striving for perfection has a tendency to result in procrastination and ultimately not getting anything done, and then there’s the tendency of not pursuing things because of fear of failure or looking ridiculous or worrying about what others might think.

I suffer from this affliction in some measure but ever since I’ve come upon that “worth doing badly” quote, I’ve been re-examining my “do it right” approach to life. I find myself lightening up in my expectations, letting go of the desire to serve the perfect snack, for example, as we “visit” each of the continents during the summer reading program at the library.

I’m remembering the importance of having fun and focusing, not on the fact that I can’t sing and I can’t dance, but on the joy in moving with the music—even though I have as much rhythm as a telephone pole and am keeping time to a different drummer. There is bliss in belting out the lyrics to You’re a Grand Old Flag that overcomes the embarrassment felt when you can’t maintain a note for more than four beats. And that joy overcomes the self-consciousness experienced while dancing poorly when (horrors!) others are watching.

Of course, you don’t want an engineer embracing the “worth doing badly” philosophy when designing a bridge, nor a surgeon about to take out your gall bladder. But in other arenas, especially sports and the arts, it’s a license to have fun, to participate in life rather than just observe it, to build memories of significant moments. When I think back on the times I threw caution to the wind and just did it—albeit badly—I recall great satisfaction and, sometimes, hilarity.

In high school, I played in a makeshift “band”—the New Hum-A-Kazoo Revue—at the Future Farmers of America New York state convention with my friends Adrienne, Bob, and Elan. We were the district winners in the group talent category (an easy feat since there were no other group acts) so we moved on to the state competition.

We had a little routine as we hummed each song. Standing four abreast, we alternated bending our knees and bobbing up and downas we played our little kazoos. Trouble ensued when I started laughing at the absurdity of our act and couldn’t quit. It only got worse when I bobbed down and stayed there. Adrienne and Elan tried to pull me up but we were soon an entanglement of arms and legs as we dissolved in laughter and Bob kept on bobbing and humming the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B.

The fun we had and the memories of the experience were certainly worth the act of doing it badly.

When I went searching for the source that quote—G. K. Chesterton in What's Wrong With the World, written in 1910—I was heartened by other quotes I found in the same vein.

"The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything." - 19th century U.S. diplomat Edward John Phelps

You wouldn't worry so much about what others thought of you, if you knew how seldom they did.

  —Phillip McGraw, quoting his father

Until you spread your wings, you'll have no idea how far you can fly.”


Dance as though no one is watching you. Love as though you have never been hurt before. Sing as though no one can hear you. Live as though heaven is on earth.”


And I leave you with this, my new favorite quote, author unknown:

“Everything will be all right in the end, and if it's not all right, then it's not the end.”

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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