The quest for adequacy

One definition of ‘an adequate life’ has been given as ‘grasping intuitively the whole nature of things’, a life that has seen and felt and refocused itself to this whole. Therefore ‘an inadequate life’ is one that lacks this adjustment to the whole nature of things leading to a twisted perspective, partiality and confusion. In the introduction to ‘A Testament of Devotion’ by the Quaker Thomas R. Kelly, Douglas V. Steere writes that Thomas Kelly’s life is the story of a passionate and determined quest for adequacy.

It’s a strange word to use about someone because the meaning of adequacy is about a state of being sufficient for the purpose. In other words it doesn’t suggest abundance or excellence or even more than what is absolutely necessary. Adequacy is simply the state of sufficiency. Yet as the dictionary advises there is a current of equality running through the noun adequacy. The Latin word from which it is derived is adaequāre, ‘to make something equal to something else.’ The English word made its appearance in the early 1800s as a derivative of the adjective adequateAdequacy means being equal to the requirements of the situation — no more, no less.

The words and the usage of the word in this context remind me of Donald Winnicott’s use of the term ‘good-enough’, especially in the context of the ‘good-enough mother’. Often people think that ‘good-enough’ sounds a bit half-hearted but in fact it’s a very realistic term that Winnicott uses about whoever is fulfilling the mothering role. There is enough good in what happens – and in everything there is always the good and the bad – so the good-enough mother meets what Winnicott calls the omnipotence of the infant and to some extent make sense of it. She also does this repeatedly and if this happens enough the true self begins to have life because the mother’s good-enough responses gives strength to the infant’s weak ego. Conversely the mother who is not good enough (note Winnicott stops using a hyphen at this point) is not able to do this and repeatedly fails to meet the infant’s experience – what Winnicott calls ‘the infant gesture’ and instead substitutes her own gesture which then leads to compliance and to the early stages of the false self which belongs to and emerges from the mother’s inability to sense her infant’s needs.

If we are on a quest for adequacy in life, and to be a good-enough mother/parent to ourselves (no matter what our age) and indeed be able to respond appropriately to others, then this seems to me to be a spiritual path for our age. A path removed from hyperbole and exaggeration perhaps something more unassuming and simple than is often expected and aimed for.

In the next few posts I’m going to look at the writing of Thomas R. Kelly (1893-1941) to see if he can help spiritually and psychologically.