Save of course for a few of life’s endeavours (mainly folding grocery bags), I’ve never been much of a perfectionist. Striving for it yes, but being bothered if I or others are imperfect or flawed, being fussed about burning dinner for guests (setting the kitchen on fire) or being incapable of leaving the house without an immaculately contoured face full of MAC make up (seriously smells like Dulux paint), these are not concerns that make me lose panda winks at night. Momentarily of course I will feel upset when things deviate from plan, but I won’t allow myself to dwell upon or punish myself for something going wrong.
It is when I have made mistakes in life that I’ve learnt the most. When things always go to plan, you learn very little and you appreciate even less. Practice certainly makes perfect but practice entails a few bumps in the road.
I operate by a live and let live philosophy or at least try to. I won’t lie, I do expect high standards but over the years, I have come to realise that if I struggle to live and abide by them myself, if I can live and excuse myself for shortcomings, then so too must I forgive and excuse others for the same.
Imperfections bind us together
I have come to accept that flaws and imperfections are a common part of our human state. Something for us to rejoice in commonality. How many times have we done something absentmindedly stupid like leaving our credit card in the machine and walking away, going shopping but forgetting our wallet only to realise at the till, running out of petrol even though the warning light had been on for two days. Perhaps you haven’t done these exact things (neither have I, honestly. I’m perfect) but you will have done your own version of such mistakes.
That’s not to say I’m a disorganised mess (I rather prefer the term organised chaos) but perfectionism never really appealed to me because it strays from realism and the natural human condition which is to be flawed and imperfect.
I don’t mind if traffic makes me late for a movie and I miss the first ten minutes or don’t make it at all, I don’t care if I don’t score 100% on a test, I don’t mind if I miss my mouth and drop Shrimp Pad Thai on my crotch and then my cousin spills soda water on me to “clear up the mess”. I am less than perfect but it is in the imperfect moments I’ve found, that I sit back and laugh the most. Sometimes when things couldn’t go more wrong, you can do nothing else but laugh at your predicament. My mother raised me with the saying,
“Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone” – (writer: Ella Wheeler Wilcox).
And indeed, my father raised me with another saying,
“A wise man learns from the mistakes of others, a fool from his own” – (writer: Otto von Bismarck)
It is now somewhere in-between these two sayings that I have found a more comfortable place to sit. On the one hand don’t make such a large issue out of everything, make things smaller in your mind and keep perspective but on the other hand make sure to be open minded and to learn from the life experience and wisdom of others rather than diving headfirst into tried and tested endeavours which have no proven benefit to you. Don’t be afraid to try but don’t be stupid to try things that are known to be harmful or that you know you’re not qualified to undertake. It’s like I want to climb Everest one day (unlikely but one can dream!) but I certainly won’t do it before I’ve even attempted Kilimanjaro or a few 5-6000 metre peaks! I guess what I’m trying to articulate is the art of having balance, in striving for perfection and setting big goals but not being at the mercy of them when you do not scale the heights you intended.
Being at the behest of perfectionism is the trait of a negative mind. At an obsessive, compulsive level, perfectionism can hold you to ransom, sew the seeds of self doubt and negative bias within you, for not only yourself but also others. A positive mind will strive for perfectionism but give itself and others human allowances for falling short. A negative mind will poison and punish itself for failing to attain perfection.
Perfection is a distortion of reality.
The growth of social media has distorted the younger generations world view where youngsters only share the perfect, filtered, often staged parts of their lives. This creates an anxiety and a vacuum filled by discontentment in themselves and others, a dissatisfaction and ungratefulness for the blessings contained within their own lives. Many have written about the dark side of the digital age with statistics and studies to back up the growing opinion that social media is causing more harm than good with the mental well-being of its users.
Of course, social media is not a lone offender. The inherent human condition is to compare to others, as I mentioned in an earlier blog on the fine art of imitation, we learn to imitate others through our comparison with others. This is not limited to the younger generation but even adults suffer from this ailment of comparisons with their peers, “keeping up with the Jones'”. As Theodore Roosevelt wisely put it “Comparison is the thief of joy” and indeed, perfection is a distortion of reality.
Nobody’s lives are perfect and we’d find more contentment if we focussed on counting our blessings than complaining about what we don’t have.
In a dystopian world, perfection is unrealisable
In Arabic, the word for human is insaan and the root of the word insaan comes from the word nisyaan meaning forgetful one. So essentially, “to err is human” (quote from Alexander Pope).
It is part of our innate human state to make mistakes, forget and fall into error. Once we come to accept this fallibility in our human condition, we come to the realisation that it is in the attempt where we learn and achieve the most. Nit-picking on the negatives serves no one any favours but focussing on the positives, striving to see light in darkness is how we are able to illuminate our souls and find guidance. Every cloud has a silver lining.
Perfect as a stand alone word appears positive and noble but it’s deceptive because in order to be perfect and look for perfection one needs to be focussed on looking at the imperfections; as though they are ugly traits not to be tolerated or accepted.
Putting a harsh lens of perfection on yourself is akin to self immolation. No one will like what they see if perfection is the unrealistic goal for which they strive.
To expect perfection from others is to postulate that one is also perfect. It is supercilious to expect from others what is an impossible feat for oneself.
Absolutely not saying that we shouldn’t be striving for perfection, I’m more discussing an incessant need for perfection in an obsessive compulsive manner. The kind of manner that disturbs your own and other peoples peace. The kind that makes a person intolerant, non accepting of the other, this type of need for perfection is destructive and leaves a person with no ones company to tolerate but that of his own.
Perfection is a concept like many others, noble in theory but imperfect in practice. Democracy is also a perfect concept but show me a country where it is in perfect practice? Religion is a perfect concept, teaching peace and kindness yet there are still many who practice it through fundamentally flawed interpretations. Equality is a noble and perfect concept but if you give each man the same, do you arrive at equity?
All this further proves is that mankind is fundamentally flawed, prone to error, incapable of executing the noble practices to perfection. The earthly realm is dystopian with flashes, glimpses of inspirational light. It is in the striving, the attempt of living well that we can see this light. We will never arrive at the destination in this life for life itself is a journey that finishes only upon our last breath. The destination is yet to be determined. As with everything in life itself that has a mirror, a reflection, an equal and opposite, so too does this world. Utopia is reserved for the Hereafter – where all noble concepts such as perfection will not only thrive but will be a norm.
A few of my favourite quotes on the subject of perfection:
“Strive for progress not perfection” – (writer: unknown)
“Perfection is an illusion based on our own perception” – (writer: unknown)
To those who expect perfection from others but have no hope of being able to capture it within themselves, say:
In a sea of deception, I am perfection; Nothing of your perception, Can affect my ascension – (writer: Halima Nawaz)