In-between the European Football Championship in France that just ended, the Olympic Games coming up in Brazil in a few weeks, and in the middle of the summer vacation for students and teachers, I would like to write about accepting yourself and ‘good enough’. If we all do our best, that is good enough – even if we don’t win gold, silver or bronze medals, or get no public recognition at all – at school, at work, in sports, or in other places where competition has become so important in our time. In elite sports, most of the players are almost equally good, and it becomes close to absurd to rank them based in miniscule differences. Well, I must admit I like if Pakistan wins in cricket matches, and I was happy for Muhammad Waseem from Quetta when he took silver in the WBC boxing championship a few days ago.

Let us remember, though, that many of the competitions are just games and time-pass, often more important for the organisers and judges than competitors. Some of the activities are important as social gatherings and reasons for placing issues on the agenda. Few are to be taken very seriously. But that is easier said than done nowadays when money-making, success and recognition are so important in most fields; in business, sports, culture, education, yes, even in religion.

Recently, the media informed us about the ranking of universities worldwide, in Asia and in Pakistan. Pakistani institutions didn’t do so well, said the evaluators and ranking ‘specialists’. I couldn’t care less! True, there are some international standards that are important. But most standards are local, and the international ‘specialists’ don’t know what they should measure in Pakistan or other countries, provinces and local communities within countries. A little rural institute may be good enough for its purpose and its beneficiaries, but it would fall through the ‘fishing net’ of international evaluators. It would probably not be optimal and excellent. Nothing is; we can always do better. Yet, we should accept ‘good enough’, which is better than nothing, and better than excellent, which hardly exists in real life, in real time, and including everyone.

Don’t overstretch my argument; I also believe in striving towards doing things better. But that is no excuse for being too disappointed with what we actually do. We should rather say: “I did my best; others could have done better (or worse), but I did as well as I could, and to do something is better than doing nothing. Isn’t it?” Besides, we rarely do things alone; we do things together with others and in contexts where we don’t have full control, total say, and all the resources we might wish for.

I am not saying that the mediocre is good enough. In my understanding, that concept says that we didn’t really do our best. It has a touch to it of being sloppy, in a hurry, semi-professional and even a bit dishonest. Mediocre is different from accepting ‘good enough’.

Ingemar Olsson, a Swedish song writer and composer, has written a popular hymn entitled, ‘Du vet väl om att du är värdefull’. In English: ‘I hope that you know that you are invaluable; that you are important here and now; that you are loved for your own sake; because no one is like you’.

It is so simple that it borders on being simplistic; or, it is so well said that it borders on being genial. I’d go for the latter. And I hope that if any students read my article today, and if they didn’t get top grades in all subjects at school, they take note of the songwriter’s message. I hope that the teachers and parents also listen, and that they, too, feel happy with themselves and their youngsters.

In Norwegian folktales, there is a character named Askeladden, the Ash Lad, in English. He is the youngest of three brothers, just sitting at the fireplace, seemingly having been told he is good for nothing. Well, not quite perhaps, because to be responsible for keeping the fire going is also a responsible task.

In the Norwegian folktales that were collected and written down by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Moltke Moe in the 1840s and 1850s, the elder brothers may have better chances to succeed in life, they may be well-read and have better competences than Askeladden. Yet, in the stories – and in people’s everyday philosophy – it is often Askeladden who ‘saves the princess and wins half the kingdom’. It is Askeladden who is socially responsible; he forgets his own selfish goals in order to help others. Yet, against all odds, he becomes the successful one. He is the opposite of the many heroes that we otherwise find in folktales and stories; he is certainly not a Viking war-hero, or a Superman from today’s fairytales. We may need both, though, I shall admit that.

At my guest house in Islamabad, they have a particularly conscious and kind cook. He has many of the good character traits of Askeladden combined with his brothers’ organisational talent. If Muhammad Ibrar, a Kashmiri, just wanted to be concerned about himself, he would have had an easier workday. But it is the social concern for everyone that makes him a good cook; and the food is alright, too. He doesn’t need to compete with any master cooks and chefs, who might step on their colleagues to win first prizes as master chefs. Ibrar knows that what he does is ‘good enough’. I must acknowledge his good food and social skills next time I wonder into his modest ‘kitchen kingdom’ on the roof of my building.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to another hero, a famous Norwegian by the name of Per Fugelli (72), with a doctoral degree in medicine, no less, who is a retired professor in social, cultural and political health subjects. His professional and public contributions have been excellent, and I have said that we shouldn’t quite cultivate and admire people who pursue excellence; we should rather cultivate ‘good enough’ and all those who are ‘doing their best’. Yet, Fugelli stands for most if not all of what I have said in my article today; as a matter of fact, I have borrowed many every day and deeper philosophical ideas from his numerous articles and books. (See, i.a., video in the Norwegian newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad for 09.04.16.)

Now, Fugelli is at the end of his life, suffering from terminal cancer, which he has spoken and written about since it was discovered about seven years ago. But Fugelli is focused on his social-medical messages as ever. We should be kinder to each other, he says. We should trust and welcome others, whoever they are, from within the borders of the land and immigrants from outside. If we don’t, it is dangerous for ourselves and tragic for ‘the others’.

Fugelli underlines that few if any of us become ‘angels on earth’, but we are still ‘good enough’, as long as we do our best for ourselves and others. Most of the time, we are average; we are ‘Wednesday people’, not ‘Sunday or Juma people’. After all, most days have a mix of sunshine and clouds, but we should learn to live with both. Per Fugelli does – this life that he loves so deeply; the work and challenges, the company with his nearest and dearest, and indeed with his grandchildren and young students, those who have not yet been moulded into copies of the old ones; those who possess the creative and sometimes crazy curiosity to do the impossible, and indeed they will do things better than we who are older have managed to do.

Fugelli would have liked to have had some more days on earth, but if that cannot be, he says he is also curious and full of questions as for what will come hereafter – although not having found a clear dogmatic religious faith. However, if I were to advise God, Per Fugelli would indeed be welcomed in. He has told everyone what also Ingemar Olsson said in the song I mentioned above; “I hope that you know that you are invaluable”. If we do the best that we can for ourselves and for others, a major part of God’s commandments to us human beings have been fulfilled: accepting yourself and that ‘good enough’ suffices. It is the basis for loving yourself and your neighbour, which is God in us and around us. Isn’t it?