Saturday, May 19


All we can ever expect of perfection, not being able to improve something in anyway, in our own lives is a but a fleeting moment, if that. (I think that may be paraphrased from the novel Fight Club, but I digress because I can go on about Fight Club for a long bleeding time.) The most skilled and talented among us may be fortunate enough to experience more than a few such moments. Perfection in anything, moral action, creative works, athletic activites, whatever, is nigh impossible because it depends upon more than that which is within our ability to control. For a painting to be perfect the paint must be just right, and short of making one's own paints, there is very little one can do to guarantee this short of becoming intimately familiar with a specific type and producer. For a violin performance to be perfect, not only must the instrument and performer be at their best but the acoustics of the auditorium must be perfectly suited as well, and those are not odds I like.

We cannot guarantee perfection, no matter our own efforts. What then should our relationship be to it?

I say we continue to strive for it. We acknowledge its veritable impossibility but continue on because we can never attain it without trying. The moment striving ends, the opportunity for perfection is absolutely out of our reach. Because of this ultimate goal, we will fail again and again. We just learn the best we can from these mistakes and try again. Besides, the result is of secondary importance. It's in the process and means where true value lies.

In counter, perfectionists, those who put the most effort into finding perfection, are disdained. In my experience, many of these criticisms are directed against those who are fastidious in their homework habits and small work duties. At these times, such criticisms are warranted. In their pursuit of perfection on such small things, they waste time on items of little consequence, directing their attention away from greater matters like morality and artistic creation.

But what about those who pour their beings into charity organizations and enter politics to aid the downtrodden? Schindler broke down at the end of his movie because he could have saved more by selling his car and cuff links and whatever else he still had. Is it appropriate to direct criticisms of perfectionism against them as well? I say yes but must first define perfection beyond 'not being able to improve something in anyway.' Perfection is not found in a single element but a system. One can spend all of their time perfecting their individual skill with a paint brush or violin, but they must still have experiences outside of their craft as sources. They must still maintain their health to perform at the utmost of their abilities. Perfection, when it is found, is found through many practices, not merely some clearly identifiable, central thing like skill with a paint brush in painting.

To return to perfection in matters of social justice, at least my earlier examples were quantitative and could be said that one completed some assignment perfectly. Perfection in such matters is still dependent, even more so than artistic and creative endeavors, upon the choices of others, whether its people aiding in the improvement of their own situation or others choosing to act evilly. As such, failures of perfection here are even more common. One can still do everything in their own power and fail miserably. Thus, before they even begin to work towards that goal of perfect justice and goodness, they must come to grips with their inevitable failure lest they breakdown and entirely forsake the project.

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