It’s All Good

Member Group : James Edwards: Word Watch

Even in good times, it’s just too easy to declare ‘It’s all good’
"This summer … it’s all good."

— Promotion for this season’s shows on The Discovery Channel

"I’m good."

— Young man looking drunk, waiving the offer of a beer

"It’s all good."

— CVS cashier to calm my annoyance as I fumble with my keys

This season it’s difficult to maintain, and be serious, that "it’s all good." We’re in a worldwide financial crisis, markets are down, days are getting shorter and darker and colder and political uncertainty crackles in the air.

But there’s always a place for a benediction (Latin for "good word"), even in tough times, and the positive outlook that sustains us through the troughs. If it didn’t, every bumper sticker would say, "Life sucks," and no sweatshirt at the beach could ever declare, "Life is good."

"It’s all good": Whence arose such a carefree and comprehensive blessing? Who assures and approves so abundantly, so unconditionally?

A few months ago, I attended a day-and-a-half series of meetings about a variety of topics, all seemingly worthy of the group’s collective time. They were all difficult, vexing problems, all needing thoughtful reflection, due consideration, evaluation, thought and wizened judgment. In a summary statement, the leader of the group paused near the end of his summary, smiled contentedly, beamed and pronounced: "It’s all good."

It is? Was it?

Plenty of our matters weren’t complete, needed action plans, follow-up, more information, were revealing of real conflict, real weakness. But for him, at the end, "It’s all good."

I fear it’s a sign of the weak state of blessing that such an innocuous, non-specific, simple-minded bromide slides to the top of favored feel-good declarations.

Thirty years ago, when I studied linguistics, the professor made the point that things said were to be distinguished from things done. Perhaps this was a linguistical way of saying, "Actions speak louder than words," or "When everything is said and done, a lot more is said than done."

She went on to make a point I never forgot: The only time a layman can take an action simply by saying something, it is this: "I marry you." Her point that marriage is simultaneously an action and an utterance sticks with you. Of the sacraments, marriage is the only one we can say something about. At baptism we don’t speak; at last rites too often we can’t either.

Blessings are an action taken — the means are the words spoken. They are normally spoken by the ordained, the anointed, the exalted among us, who have attained a position through wisdom or work to make blessings. Various modes of speech by our political classes, and the entertainment classes, are attempts by them to use or project what they’ve come to believe are elevated positions very like ordainment, from which they may pronounce, bless, condemn, intone and so on.

We had a word, for a time, that had the air of blessing about it in popular speech: it was "copacetic."

This intriguing word, meaning OK, fine or completely satisfactory is mysteriously of disputed origin, like a foundling child. Even the language or culture that claims it is disputed, among these: the space program, Hebrew, and Chinese. Even its proper spelling confounds. But if someone believing they had a position from which to intone described a situation or set of circumstances as "copacetic," I believe something of the "elevation by language" phenomenon is present.

I’m inclined to be a traditionalist. I won’t allow someone to act ordained just by ripping off an "It’s all good," or "The situation’s copacetic." These things are simply too easy to say.

I prefer a blessing worthy of the time and gravity of one:

May the Lord follow you, keep you safe and well, may he guide you, and may he keep and protect you, now, and forevermore.

There’s a blessing worthy of the name. Not "It’s all good." God help us!

James M. Edwards lives in Squirrel Hill.
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