“Be yourself. Everybody else is taken” – Oscar Wilde
Part of living within a society requires us to abide by a set of values and conventions. This enculturation can make us think and act in ways that are at odds with our own wellbeing. The quest for perfection is one of those deeply harmful precepts that is built into the fabric of our society. The perfect body, the perfect partner, the perfect kids, the perfect job or better yet the perfect life are just dreams created by clever salespeople to keep us consuming. They persuade us that all we need to do is buy that one (more) thing and we will find that ever so elusive happiness that comes from achieving perfection.
The word perfect is derived from the Latin perfectus meaning ‘completed’. Completion suggests that there can be a static endpoint which is in keeping with a simple linear worldview where everything progresses from point A to point B. This is incompatible with the natural cycle of life where one form changes to other form(s) and so on and so on. A seed germinates in fertile soil and grows to a tree which in turn casts seeds to the wind. Some to germinate and grow into more trees, others to be eaten by birds and converted into energy and excrement, which in turn is converted by microorganisms into nutrients in the soil that allow some of the other seeds to germinate. Whether or not the seed germinates and grows into a tree is affected by so many factors coming together, none of which need to be perfect for a beautiful tree to emerge.
We are all unique expressions of the universe – every stone, leaf, bird and human is an unrepeatable being. Certainly we share characteristics with other members of our species and we might even look exactly like another in the case of identical twins, but the particular combination of material and spiritual is unique to each being.
We need to stop and ask ourselves why we are all so fascinated with perfection. The world is full of imperfections but does that really make it any less beautiful, enjoyable or worthwhile? Isn’t it the unexpected curves, quirks and bumps that add wonder, adventure and bring new possibilities into our lives?
It is patently obvious that while society outwardly extols individualism, it at the same time expects us to constrain our individuality to an arbitrary set of acceptable criteria. Anyone who steps outside these confines is effectively ostracised or persecuted. So much is lost from our world by this. We are crippling our society by denying its full spectrum of diversity. We are essentially creating a black and white version of a world that abounds with a veritable rainbow of colours.
Removing conditioned behaviours and thoughts is not an easy task – perhaps it will take the rest of our lives. I certainly don’t have any concrete solutions and I am just as susceptible to falling into the trap of pursuing perfection. But how do we start to undo these layers of conditioning?
Part of this for me is to always question what is usually take for granted. Ask why am I doing this? Does it really make me better, more healthy, more loved? Think about the people who truly love you and who you truly love. What is it about them? Is it their personality – their kindness or creativity or passion perhaps? Are they perfect? Would you expect them to be perfect? Then why would you expect yourself to be perfect?
Media is of course the biggest source of this perfection propaganda. One of the best things I did a while ago is to stop watching commercial television. Of course advertising is very hard to avoid since it has insidiously infiltrated most of our public spaces. However strong willed we are, this ceaseless onslaught of messaging selling us a contrived version of reality seeps into our consciousness and colours the way we think and act.
Perhaps our best self-defence to this onslaught is to take time to find our inner voice and try to live in accordance with that.
It is our true unique self the world needs most at the moment, not some manufactured, air-brushed masquerade.