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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Perfection

I think perfection is overrated.  In saying that, I am not saying that I won't strive for it. Let me also say right here at the start that I may contradict myself as I write this post, but I am 100% (perfectly?) content with that possibility. Let me explain:
  
There are tasks we can accomplish perfectly.  They are finite actions.  Take, for example, simple math.  It’s easy to master basic addition, subtraction, or multiplication, right?   It is exciting to know we've reached mastery of something.   Remember the thrill of getting 100% on a math test, or spelling test, or any test?  But once we’ve learned those skills, they become booooooriiiiing.  In finite tasks, perfection, once achieved = dull.  It’s time to move on to something else.  Time for new challenges and new discoveries.  Time to seek perfection at some new skill.  

There are, however, many task that are not measurable in the same way that knowing math facts is.  Reaching perfection in these undertakings is impossible.  The arts and sports immediately come to mind.  So does teaching.

I think the reason I gravitate towards artsy things like writing and photography is this: there is no limit to getting better. "Perfection" is a relative term.  So is "finished."  I "finished" a post a few days ago, mostly just because I was sick of it.  It was anything but perfect.  For now, or maybe forever, it will remain that way.  I wrote another post months ago, thinking it was perfect, that there was nothing I could possibly do to it to make it any better.  Now as I look at it, I find myself changing a word here or a phrase there.  I can still make it better.  It is not perfect.  When I look at pictures I've taken, I now see ways I could have made them better.  A different angle, being closer to or farther from my subject, going to a certain spot at a different time of day.  Despite the thousands of pictures I took over the last few months, I still have a lot to learn about getting those near-perfect shots.  I'm not holding my breath for a perfect one. 

Sports can challenge us in the same way that artistic endeavors do.  An athlete can always be stronger, more agile, faster, etc. With the Olympics coming up soon and trials going on now, we are sure to see new world records, but does that mean the fastest or strongest athlete is perfect?  Nope, because sooner or later, someone will come along and break that record.  Perfection is illusory. The striving to get to perfection, whatever "perfection" means, is the interesting part.  And it will never end.  

Then there's teaching.  Because the dynamics of a classroom change from year to year, period to period, even minute to minute, the chances of being a perfect teacher are more fleeting than the flash of a lightning bug. (Can you tell I'm writing in summer?) It'll never happen.  This alarm a perfectionist.   Personally, I find the ever-changing dynamics exhilarating.  Exhausting sometimes.  But never, ever boring.  I am always challenged to adapt and to change, to reach every kid who comes in my room.  The requirements of "perfection" in this setting constantly change.

In seeking perfection, there is always a tension between current ability and future possibility.  We take steps, move forward, thinking we might just get "there," and then it, perfection, moves a few steps farther ahead of us.  Some of us thrive on the thrill of the chase.  Yes, there's frustration, too, but it's the thrill that keeps us going.  

As I ponder perfection, I gotta say, I don't think we're really ever meant to achieve it.  Our lives would be stagnant because there would be no more moving forward.  There'd be nowhere to go.  What fun is that?   More importantly, what good is it for our soul?

Let me move from the idea of doing things perfectly to being perfect.  I don't think we're meant to be perfect any more than we're meant to do perfectly.  Let me offer this:    

"All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely appointed." -John Ruskin

I don't know about you, but I love the idea of my imperfections being "divinely appointed."   Just think about God making us all, thinking about how each of us, complete with imperfections, flaws and blemishes, might complement one another.  It's the imperfections that bring us together.  We need each other to be complete, and I don't just mean that in the context of a marriage.  It's not just about two people becoming one.  My vision is bigger than that.  I'm talking about people uniting in communities and then communities coming together.  I'm even talking about the world becoming one.  We need everybody here (animal, vegetable, mineral, everything else) co-existing together, complementing each other's goodness, loveliness, and belovedness, teasing out the best we have, even and especially when the best is imperfect.  Can you imagine what that complete complementing would look like?  In Buddhist tradition, there is a spiritual practice in which the practitioner imagines the world at its best, as perfection, in as great detail as possible.  What would that look like for you?  Are you comfortable trying to imagine it?  

If you're a cynic, you might be rolling your eyes at me now.  "Is she seriously talking about a utopia that we'll never see, y'know, like everybody holding hands and singing?"  Maybe. Something like that.  I love to sing.  Imagine the harmonies.  "She's got her head in the clouds.  Her feet must be somewhere up there, too, because the world coming together as one ain't never gonna happen."  Maybe not, at least not anytime soon.  Or maybe it's not even supposed to happen, but wow, what creativity springs from our efforts to approach perfection.  As I write, my mind goes back to that image of hand-holding and singing (Anyone remember Hands Across America?) as I ponder the fruits of creativity, of striving for perfection.  I'll let you ponder, too...


To end, I'll just reiterate my first statement.  I think perfection is overrated, but I'll keep my eyes focused on the notion.  I will try not to despair when I see so much in the world and in myself that could be better.  Maybe instead of asking why the world isn't perfect or why I can't get it right all the time, maybe I'll instead thank God for imperfection.  Maybe I'll thank God for giving me a reason to move, to stretch, to be on an endless path of creativity.  Maybe I'll thank God for the opportunity to need others and to feel their love, to be needed and to give love, knowing that as we do so, or strive to do so, wholly and unconditionally, we are imitating the way God loves us, divine imperfections and all, wholly and unconditionally.  Perfectly.        

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