Although images of perfection in people’s personal lives can cause unhappiness, images of perfect societies – Utopian images – can cause monstrous evil. In fact, forcefully changing society to conform to societal images was the greatest cause of evil in the twentieth century
Perfection, by definition is a quality, trait, or feature of the highest degree of excellence (Dictionary.com). It is an ideal that represents the absolute peak and ought to be what everyone and everything strive for. When we hear the word perfection, we tend to associate it with a static end point. An ideal beyond which there is no scope of improvement. However, perfection is extremely subjective and transient in nature. For e.g., my perfect coffee would be black with a hint of cream and sugar; I am sure it will not be exactly same for you. And I would definitely take cold coffee over hot on a summer day. So, not only does the perfection of an object or idea change from person to person, it also changes for the same person over time. This makes me think about why the concept of perfection would exist at all.
It seems to me that perfection, even as an abstract concept, is the root cause of much unhappiness. How can people be happy when they are always comparing themselves to what they ought to be, the feeling that what they are isn’t enough. The average guy who has a desk job wants a body like the Hollywood actors. The guy at the gym, who has a great body, wants a high paying job like his lawyer friend. The lawyer wants a less stressful job like a primary school teacher. And, it never stops. There will always be something in your life that someone has more of. There will always be another person who is better than you at what you are doing. If you compare the bad experiences of your life to the good experiences of others, you are only setting yourself up for disappointment.
Another aspect of perfection is that it is purely one dimensional. For you, a girl might have the perfect face, but that doesn’t mean that she would be a good girlfriend. Your friend might have the perfect work life balance, but he might not have the level of income that you desire. As human beings we tend to look at other people from a distance and judge their life as perfect and thus, devalue our own in comparison. Just because a person works in the country’s top bank and drives a luxury car doesn’t mean his life is perfect. You are just seeing what you would like to have in your life and basing your judgement on that sole fact. Then why is it that our society is obsessed with perfection? Knowing that it only makes people unhappy and by the very definition, there is no achieving it.
Perfection does have a role to play, and a very important one at that. Any perfect thing is an epitome of experience or achievement for people to strive for. Perfection acts as an aspiration or motivation for people. The perfect home, the perfect car, the perfect holiday etc. are some rudimentary examples of things that most people work hard for. How the end result matches up to their expectation is irrelevant to their having worked hard to get to that perfect result. So, perfection is in the mind of a person, i.e., the idea of the perfect object is the motivator rather than the object itself. This means that other ideas can act as motivators too. Like the idea of being known as a successful businessman or a religious guru. When such ideas lead an individual to action that actually contributes value to other peoples’ lives, then how can the idea of perfection not be an important cog in the working of our society?
The problem, as I see it, is not the concept of perfection but the use it is being put to – Comparison to perfection and degradation of reality. Instead of looking at the perfection and appreciating how much work and effort would have gone into making it so, people just think “I’m never going to be as good as that.” For e.g., your presentation might not be as good as the one a colleague of yours had made, so you give a nominal effort to make it because you think it is never going to be as good. Thus, you are ensuring it is never going to be as good. Instead, if you had given it your all and it still wouldn’t have been good enough, realize how much effort your colleague would have put into his presentation. Now, it is up to you to decide whether you want to increase your effort or to be satisfied with the current result. The chain of events hold true for your life as well. Are you willing to put in 18 hour workdays for 5 years straight to be able drive around in a Mercedes E Class? Are you willing to work without using up a single leave throughout the whole year so that you can take 3-4 weeks off to visit your dream destination? The point is, it is the easiest thing in the world to sit and cry about your life, looking at all the magazines and blogs about how people are living it up. Unfortunately, that seems to be the status quo in our society. Everyone looks at the results and ignores the effort. The end overshadows the means. The onus to become perfect is on you. You might never achieve perfection in whatever field you choose, but when you are better than the best, you will become the poster boy for perfection. Perfection then, unlike what everybody tells you, is in walking the path harder and longer than anyone else.