clearskies, bluewater

Insights, reflections and creative imaginings for our awakening world

The Myth of Perfection

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What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘perfect?’ Especially as regarding a human being? I suppose each person has their own idea of perfection and what it means, looks like, acts like, its qualities and nature. For myself, the word has connotations that inspire a knee-jerk reaction when I hear someone being described as ‘perfect.’ My skeptical side instantly appears and I suspect that whoever it is, no matter how wonderful they may appear, there is almost always another side to that human lurking somewhere in the shadows, the non-perfect side, which will sooner or later make itself shown. After all, we are all humans, aren’t we? By our very nature, to be human means to be imperfect. Or does it?

A vignette for you, dear Readers: My husband came home from his first philosophy class for teenagers, which he will be teaching for the next couple of months in another city to the north of here. He told me there were four students in the class; three girls and one boy. He paused a moment, then with a wistful look on his face, he informed me that “one girl in the class was, (here again he paused, and smiled ruefully) perfect.” I looked at him, and said, “uh huh,” waiting for the inevitable description of the perfect young girl-woman who had so captured his admiration. He could see that he had lost me in that moment, and could only finish by saying something about ‘what can you say about someone who loves Shakespeare and classical music,” but by then I had already returned to my blog post. You see, it was that word; it stopped me like a heavy door closing in my face. I did not want to hear about his ideal of perfection and grace in female form, my mind closed the instant he uttered the word, and the conversation was over nearly before it began. Okay then!

Why does that idea bother me so much, that someone walking about on the planet could actually be perfect, at least in someone else’s eyes? Have you, dear Readers, been acquainted with a human whom you could honestly say was Perfect? And if so, why? What makes a person have the qualities which constitute perfection? Woah, I think I have gotten in over my head on this one!

When I think back over all the various people I have been acquainted with over the years, a few people spring to mind who hover in the “perfection” category. My dad is one, but for perhaps obvious reasons: I basically adored my father and in my eyes, he could do no wrong. But that’s another story. The other people were women, and I’ll try to describe each one to find out what made them be practically perfect.

The first was a very nice lady I worked with once, she was my supervisor at my first-ever graphic design job. Her name was Michele. She was petite, slim, dark haired and nearly always smiling. She had a warm heart, great sense of humor, calm demeanor and endless patience for lesser humans, like me and some of the other people who worked there. (like the ridiculous man who was our boss, the owner.) Michele seemed to me to have a charmed life: she was married to a pilot, they had a wonderful home in the mountains above Denver, Colorado, two labrador retrievers who were very well-behaved, white carpet in their living room which they, amazingly, kept white, and when they were together, they seemed to have great fun and all sorts of adventures. I don’t know if I ever saw Michele be truly ruffled; when things got a bit harried there at the advertising agency she would simply start singing the song from Mister Rodgers’ neighborhood to keep us calm (it worked like a charm!) What was it about Michele that gave me the impression she was basically perfect? I think it was because she exuded a kind of impervious calm and peaceful energy, was always able to smile no matter what was happening, and seemed to have no real worries or troubles that were apparent. A charmed life she led.

Perfect person number 2 is a woman I know from the town in Wisconsin where I used to live. Her name is Prudence (well that’s a good start towards perfection right there.) This woman also carries the aura of perfection about her as she goes about her life: another smiler, friendly, peaceful, generous and kind to a fault: yes these two definitely have some things in common, including their home life. Prudence’s home life seems practically perfect: a beautiful, custom built home on top of a hill, a caring, loving husband to attend to her every need and whim, enough financial means to enjoy all the best that life has to offer with no worries, one nearly perfect son to love and make his parents proud, and the time and space to devote her life to creative and fulfilling endeavors day upon lovely day. My goodness, she really does seem perfect!

So there is the ideal of human perfection for this writer, embodied in the ideas of happiness, warmth, calm and peace, no ‘problems’ in their lives, just harmony, joy, creativity, adventures and leisure. Would you agree that a person who possesses all these qualities must be basically perfect?

My answer is both yes and no. I can see that this essay is completely subjective; many of you would have very different ideas of which qualities a perfect person would have to possess to classify for this title. Can people be perfect even if they have problems, obvious character flaws, do not smile often, get their rugs dirty? Or in my husband’s eyes, if they don’t love Shakespeare and classical music at age thirteen? What is perfection, really, and who cares? Does it even matter? Isn’t this very notion something old and outworn, outgrown like a snake’s skin, we simply don’t need it anymore? Or do we…

Dear Readers, I apologize for these meanderings tonight. The last thing I will share is what I think is far more important than being ‘Perfect.” And that is, to be interesting! I have some dear friends who taught me about the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi. As you may know, this concept is based on the idea that things, places, and yes, even people, are at their most beautiful and best when they are indeed not only not perfect, but when we learn to appreciate their imperfections and see their flaws as the very things which make them so interesting, so unique, so wonderous. This concept is of course known to all true artists of every stripe. Forget the ideal of perfection, embrace instead the cracks in the vase or the asymmetry of that face, or that quality in the person who sits next to you at breakfast each morning which drives you absolutely crazy, for it is those very things which endears them, makes them holy, gives them vitality and strength of character: it is the imperfections of life which give the depth and nuances, the color and vibrancy which are so…. perfect!!

Ahh, so, dear Readers, tonight’s ramblings came around in the end to the heart of the matter: the myth of perfection does have a basis in something important and real, and it is a real paradox. Now, would you agree with that definition of perfection?

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Author: SingingBones

When we sing over the bones, we are calling the wild nature, the instinctive soul back, singing it alive again. To live with our wildness intact, is the greatest gift a woman can give herself. "It is the holy poetry and singing we are after." C.P. Estes

13 thoughts on “The Myth of Perfection

  1. Very good SB….I agree with all you said, especially about the beauty and value of imperfection! I also will add that I personally find when something triggers me off as the word perfect does for you, that it is triggering something within I need to deal with. There is much strength and power to the concept that the imperfections are the real beauty! VK

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    • Exactly, VK! that is precisely why I was inspired to write the post and therefore process that little scenario by exploring just what is it about perfect people that gives me that irritation…. I thought about this idea until I feel asleep last night. One thing I rememberd was a woman I knew several years ago, whose mantra was “it’s all perfect!” which she would recite to herself and whoever else was around many times in a day. I found it strange that she chose to affirm that, even when her life circumstances were far from ideal…. of course all of our words are concepts, nothing is really absolute in this realm we live in… and Perfection, though a concept most all of us can agree about generally what it means, has different connotations to different people in different contexts. Well, thanks as always for reading and contemplating a bit with me…..

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  2. Of course, I know the Prudence of which you speak…..and, yes, she does seem “perfect”, but a lot of that is because she is constantly focused on being perfect. As a type 1 on the Enneagram (the Idealist or the Perfectionist), she has an inner dialogue of “this isn’t good enough” or “they aren’t good enough” or “I am not good enough.” So, there is a “cost” to being perfect.

    And,as you pointed out, this is entirely subjective…my “perfect” may not be your “perfect.” My sense is that being perfect is a burden….why not just be your best Self without judgment of any kind?

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    • Yes, Dr. Banner, of course I know all of that about the woman in this post… but I love what you wrote at the end, why not just be your Best? Of course that is what I think also…. and yet it still doesn’t really solve the riddle of Perfection and why some may be thought of as closer to it than others….. it is something to ponder on a rainy day…. thanks for reading, hugs to you.

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  3. I like the Wabi – Sabi part,
    is that like, raw perfection?

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  4. Hi SB. I like your post. Do you ever wake in the morning and declare that today you will follow the ‘perfect’ path? I used to do this all the time when I was younger and, inevitably, I failed. Usually something interesting gets in the way. Today I was planning to clean my house (perfectly) and in the night our water pump broke. So much for scrubbing!!! Jane

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    • Hi Jane, thanks for reading and commenting with your story! I continue to think about this idea of perfection, what it is, what it is not, is it even relevant? does it have a purpose in our collective lives in the 21st century? stay tuned for yet more blog posts with more questions than answers…. SB

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  5. I, too, always balk at “perfect.” Perfection, like any aesthetic, relies so much upon perspective (subjectives…) and sets up so many expectations. I prefer to muddle along without it…

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    • Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment, Ann… busy college professor that you are. Hope you are finding time to work on some new poetry inbetween classes and the rest of life!

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      • In fact, I am–this evening, I drafted three new poems and worked on my latest stab at a manuscript! And the weekend is devoted mostly to grading papers…so it goes.

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        • that’s great, Ann…. I like the thought of my blogger friends, like you, sitting at their desks in whatver home, on whatever continent, busily writing and thinking and typing away…. there is such solidarity in this image and comfort for me, holed up here at the top of Europe in little Denmark, on this big island, but I am not alone inthis world, we are all in it together, thank Goodness!! happy Sunday, Leigh

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  6. Great post! The concept of perfection is very interesting…the only person that comes to mind for me is dear Tom, who, although being human is ‘perfect’ in most ways to me, but that he also does not see it at all. I find him perfect in ways that are just in his nature, that he sees as normal and mundane, but that I could never achieve (though I learn lots!). (Of course he would be shocked to know that I could think of him as perfect–it’s all about humility) As we compare ourselves to others constantly, if even subconsciously, I feel that our definitions of perfection are linked directly to what we are not, could not, or cant understand (regardless of if our judgments are ‘true’ or not). To me, perfection would be that certain degree of non-perfection, as you wrote about as well, a humanity strongly present in a balanced individual (or art piece, or plant for that matter).

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