Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Perfection Makes Me a Bitch

First, I feel like I need to post this t-shirt both as an explanation and an apology for my title.  And it's a clear segue into my post...

You know when something--an idea, a quote, a piece of art, a song--just hits you upside the head and maybe even upside the hart, and you just can't stop thinking about it?  Even if you've heard it before the timing and circumstances in your life just bring it into full focus?  In this way timing is like when I finally got contacts in high school.  I didn't even know I needed contacts, but when I finally went and had my eyes checked and subsequently fitted for contacts I was like, What?  This is what everyone else sees?  Leaves?  You can see individual leaves on the trees?  You know, the world is just a little more clear.  I think that's how timing works in our lives...we can see and hear things a hundred times, but when circumstances are just so, suddenly you're like, Oh. I get it now.  

That was me last week when I read the following quote:  



And now that you don't need to be perfect, you can be good.  

I've been inhaling and exhaling that quote all week like clean, ocean air.  The quote comes from Steinbeck's East of Eden.  I read that book the year after I graduated from high school and I liked it.  I still remember much of the plot and the fact that the James Dean movie by the same name is basically like the last 50 pages of a 600 page book and therefore totally inadequate.  But seeing how I graduated 20 years ago--not a typo by the way, 20 years--a lot of the book has faded away, including the above quote and the context of said quote, but that's fine.

Closely related to this quote is another one that I heard a few years ago in a talk from a man who said, Beware of trying to become perfect, we don't even know what that looks like.  I wrote about that talk in the context of Lamp as I was pregnant with that little bambino at the time and it really felt like an important message for this new life I was about to unwrap. That post still holds up for me. However, I also felt that it was a message for me to take to heart personally.  There's a reason he said beware.. a warning should be attached to a word that is all to easily twisted. 

And now that I don't need to be perfect, I can be good. Inhale. For me this has meant more compassion and less judgement. For others yes, but for myself too.  See, trying to be perfect meant I couldn't concern myself with fragile, insignificant feelings when the truth needed to be heard and rules needed to be upheld.  I've seen the tired movie cliche of the judgmental and hypocritical Christian who is so hell bent on doing the right thing they they are completely void of all mercy, rendering them the most unchristian of all.  Yet having seen that cliche and rolled my eyes at that cliche, I still managed to be that cliche. A milder version yes, but still. 

I do think honesty and rules should and do play a huge part of civilized society, just not at all costs.  And of course it's this balancing act that is always the most difficult part.  How do you exercise good judgement while not being judgmental?  How do you teach without being preachy?  Where do you draw the line between tolerance and anything goes? Like any addict, a perfection addict has some figuring out to do.  How do I climb down the ledge of perfection while being good?  In my tangled up mind being perfect was being good--they were one in the same.  And in it's purest form I think that's true but for most of us a little knowledge, is more dangerous than no knowledge at all.  Aiming for perfection before truly mastering good can have disastrous results.  

So where do I start? Cussing. Damnit.  

Half joking, half serious. Allowing for imperfections in myself and others is actually a good start.  Recognizing and embracing humanity, seeing that I can be at once imperfect and good, has been rather healing. Like most attempts at correction I'm sure the pendulum will swing too far in the other direction before I settle back somewhere in the middle, but I'm getting there. If allowing for my imperfections makes me a little rougher around the edges, I think that's OK as long as eventually it makes me a little softer in the heart. 


Anyone else feeling this quote and relate to the paradox of perfection and goodness?  Care to share a quote/thought/philosophy that's been on your mind lately? I'd love to hear.  Also, please don't tell me the context of the quote or the overall plot...I think it's time for a re-reading of East of Eden.      

7 comments:

  1. how funny, my husband and i have been talking about this very topic this week after a talk that was given in our ward last sunday. we came to the same conclusion as elder cook, we need to be careful about talking about perfection because we have no idea what that actually looks like. i feel better knowing that a general authority said something along the same lines. i tend to think about becoming whole or complete, instead, for some reasons those words jive better with my brain.

    one of my favorite quotes, attributed to voltaire, is "perfect is the enemy of good."

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  2. I love this post ! I can so relate........to all of it. I hate judging people, but find me doing it even though I hate it. I've enjoyed your blog, we are at such totally different spots in life, and I bounce around different blogs on my favorite list, but yours remains...... I'm a swearer too. I want to quit, but I guess not bad enough, since I'm still here with my s*&t, d#@n and h*@l........I think I need that shirt ! I'd love to quote you on my blog, AND I guess I need to read East of Eden.......for the first time.

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  3. I love this post. Especially because I can relate on the cussing bit. About 2 years ago I started swearing (before that I would swear out loud maybe once a year if I hurt myself really bad). Am I proud of this? Do I think it's ideal? No and no. But I'm kinda letting it go for now, because my life circumstances require me to put a lot of my energy in other places that have much more to do with my overall "goodness" (providing for my children financially and otherwise, teaching professionally, and increasing my capacity to tap into the Lord's store of patience, charity, and forgiveness. So yes, I swear now, whereas before I didn't. But I'm still a much better person than I was 2 years ago, even when you factor in the swearing (plus all my other faults).

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  4. I've commented a few times through the years, today I'll "delurk." I so related to this. We are very different. I'm Jewish. I just got in engaged and I'm in my mid-30s. I probably won't have children (but I'm an educator and work with kiddos!) Anyway. I can relate to this on another level especially when it comes to relationships and my career. Oh trying to be perfect at a job and pleasing all the people ... such a hamster wheel. And just ends up berating yourself for being human. This was just what I needed to read this morning! Thank you!

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  5. So I love this post & your whole blog - I always enjoy reading your posts because even when your perspective differs from mine, it is always so thoughtful.

    But I HAD to comment because that is the exact same thought I had when I got glasses in elementary school - "you mean trees have leaves from far away?!?!" It is the first time I can remember really being aware that people's perspectives could be very different from mine

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  6. Anonymous10:41 AM

    I always struggled with cussing (not personally cussing, understanding cuss words), I, as a young teen never understood how a formation of certain letters could make a word a "cuss" word and certain formations make non cuss words. I felt like "a word is a word" How do cuss words get such power? Random, I know. Anyway, I do cuss on occasion (and feel total guilt)…..and what I realized about cuss words? Cuss words get results! Doesn't make us bad, I can think of way worse things that make people bad!

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  7. I wear my "I'm a cusser!" badge with pride! I, too, feel that words are just words...it's how they are said that makes them what they are. So many people never cuss but can cut you down with everything they say. I would rather cuss in a lighthearted manner than hurt someone with regular old words any day. (I do believe there is a time and place for cussing, though, and wince when I hear certain words in certain locations...)

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