Best And Only?

Perhaps the greatest source of conflict in the English-speaking world today is due to the peculiar way in which the meaning of ‘best’ has been conflated with that of ‘only’. It most openly appears in issues of health, such as the battle against obesity and the struggle over breastfeeding, but also lies at the heart of the paralysis of the Western democratic system.

People have forgotten that ‘best’ does not mean ‘only’ – it means the most acceptable of a range of outcomes, some of which will likely be considered good and others better. In other words, whilst there can only be one best, it does not preclude the existence of valid alternatives and, when dealing with a broad subject, what is best in general terms might not always be best when it comes to a specific case. Sadly, the mindset that ‘best’ means ‘only’ is all too apparent when it comes to health issues such as healthy eating and breastfeeding, leading to situations where impositions are made that are not actually the best for that specific instance. Thus, we end up with situations where mothers who cannot breastfeed for perfectly valid reasons (such as being unable to produce milk or being on drugs that would harm the baby) being treated as pariahs for not doing the ‘best’ thing for their child. Of course, ‘breast is best’ when all things are equal, but sometimes the situation precludes making that choice. Good education is required to make sure that women understand the pros of breastfeeding, but some zealots need to be educated about the cons. I doubt that refusing nectar points to an ignorant mother for baby formula will impact her behaviour (after all, there are no nectar points for breast milk), but it is hardly a kindness to women who cannot breastfeed or babies without a mother to breastfeed them.

On a broader scale, this misunderstanding of ‘best’ afflicts our politics with stasis as all sides hold out for what they perceive to be ‘best’ and, thus, the only conceivable way, refusing to compromise on an achievable second best. People need to realise that a best that cannot be achieved is not best at all – it is the worst possible outcome when you could have achieved something. Sometimes you need to hold fast to your principles, but, often, you need to take the pragmatic view that, too often, demanding all or nothing means that you will get nothing. Sometimes second best is the best that you are going to get. After all, this is the real world, and things seldom function perfectly in reality…

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