By Jacki Wood, That they might have joy
Disclaimer: this is not the best column I’ve ever written. But it’s probably also not the worst.
“You did it! Congratulations! ‘World’s Best Cup of Coffee.’ Great job, everybody.”
This line is from the movie, “Elf,” when Buddy is walking down the street and excitedly enters a diner when he sees a neon sign that says “World’s Best Cup of Coffee.”
It makes me laugh every time I watch it. You know, because, how is that even quantifiable?
Whether a cup of coffee is amazing or terrible depends on one’s personal taste preferences, right?!
Best, worst, most. These are all examples of superlatives, an exaggerated or hyperbolical expression of praise.
And with Valentine’s Day approaching, we’ll be hearing a lot of these expressions, which generally makes me want to vomit.
Not that I don’t love the day of love or people sharing their affection for one another. The issue is the “best ever” phrase. “I have the best wife ever” or “I have the best boyfriend ever.”
We’ve been hearing other superlatives a lot recently, especially from Donald Trump’s campaign and into his presidency.
“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
“I’m the most militaristic person ever.”
“I get the biggest crowds. I get the biggest standing ovations.”
“I would use the greatest minds. I know the best negotiators.”
But this is nothing new.
In 1900, literary critic and author Arthur Waugh wrote, “we are living in an age where everything is ‘most impressive,’ ‘most heroic,’ and ‘most immortal.’”
“The great arguments against the indiscriminate superlative are its insincerity and vulgarity. No man can use the perpetual superlative sincerely, since he cannot frankly believe that everything he has to describe is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”
He continued by saying this may seem trivial, however, “whenever the literature of a country lacks dignity, there is something amiss with the national life and character.”
Superlatives can also be harmful in relationships.
It’s like posting on Facebook that I have the best husband ever on Valentine’s Day and then two days later posting how annoying he is because he leaves his dirty laundry all over the bedroom floor.
How can this be? He’s supposed to be the best husband ever.
“They are really hard to live up to,” relationship mentor Jana Kellam said. “And no one wants to be compared and have to try to live up to these superlatives.”
For example, she said, your partner cooks dinner, which was delicious, and you say, “this is the best meal ever!”
“Your partner may have felt great in that moment, but underlying your compliment is the implication that nothing will ever be able to compare favorably.”
“The next time you’re about to compliment something or someone,” Kellam said, “find a way of doing it that is empowering, engaging and motivating instead.
“‘I love this meal. Thank you so much for doing this for me. It’s beautiful and delicious.’”
In our “superlative-saturated world,” Amy Bailey, writer for MyScoop, said our society is not just addicted to but has overdosed on superlatives.
“When everything is super epic and the best ever, there’s no way to differentiate between really cool and just ok… What happened to just being good?
“In the Bible, we read that when the universe was created, God saw the light that it was good. There’s no epic, there’s no amazing, there’s no best ever – it was simply good.”
Now, I’m not advocating for mediocrity but I’m also very much a realist. Life is hard. I do believe, however, that we have the capacity to change, to learn and grow and become something greater than we ever imagined.
Instead of setting unrealistic expectations, though, how about we simply look for the good and say so sincerely.
I might not go to that diner because of the neon sign advertising “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” (I wouldn’t go there for the coffee anyway, since I don’t drink it).
But I might go there for a “Decent Cup of Hot Cocoa,” to hang out with a friend or my husband or my children, and have a conversation that’s honest, sincere and real. And good.