One of the most harmful and yet pervasive ideas that seem to occupy our minds and esteem society is the idea of purity or perfection.
We think of a perfect world, a utopia, perfect wisdom, perfect beauty. A perfect circle, perfect life, son, partner etc.
I find it horrifying that so much of what we want and expect has to be perfect.
It’s a wonder we get anything done or are satisfied with anything with this kind of attitude.
If it doesn’t fit into an acceptable image than it has to be wrong and rejected.
Perfection also involves the intolerance for anything impure, imperfect, or different. It’s why such ideas have moved the worst kinds of people in history. Those who seek to change the world in blood, because they have some twisted ideas on how the world should look, With the idea only violence can bring them about.
Perfection has to be one of the biggest roadblocks in our own lives.
My unhappiness can be traced to many things but one of the biggest is the feeling that I’m not good enough, I’m not perfect. People won’t accept me with my flaws.
Feeling ashamed of looking ridiculous, or that I might fail. I’ve never tried too hard on anything and didn’t live the life I wanted.
Purity is about discarding or suppressing our more negative brutish sides like anger, fear, aggression, jealousy, envy and so on.
It was this idealistic attitude I had to let go of and instead live in the real world, where things are messy, paradoxical, difficult, ugly, painful.
Perfection is such an insidious goal because…
The first is that perfection (if you choose to define this way) isn’t achievable. It sets up a futile and desperate struggle towards a destination that we will never reach. Such a struggle means you can’t ever be happy and enjoy yourself. There’s far too much work to do, too much to worry over. Which leads to overwork, stress, burnout and perpetual dissatisfaction, and suffering.
Because failure is no longer an option we worry over starting a project, become paralysed with fear.
It also falls foul of the law of diminishing returns. Above a certain point, the results or output becomes less than the work or input. The closer you get to perfection the more energy and time you have to devote to it. So our work becomes less effective.
Not letting anyone see your mistakes, your failings and your uglier side would take a massive effort on your part. That energy can be put to better use in other ways.
A big part of our relationship with perfection has to do with shame.
Shame is the feeling we’re unworthy, a more long-lasting emotion. Compared to guilt that’s more temporary and specific to behaviour.
Being impure promotes the feelings of shame that can lead us to feel unworthiness and despair. The thought that we’re not good enough and never will be. Along with the fear at what others might think if they ever found out the truth about us.
Shame is splitting ourselves down the middle into what’s acceptable and not.
This division comes about because we don’t trust ourselves to act well most of the time. So we go a self-improvement drive to make it more ourselves more presentable, suppressing parts of us we feel ashamed of (what Jung called our Shadow self ).
We essentially go to war against ourselves, with victory being the purity of being all good and no bad.
What an awful state of affairs. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Such feelings could drive some to suicide and it contributes to the massive mental health issues we have.
What’s wrong with me? Is the cry we hear inside when we are rejected.
At it’s worst we cut ourselves, metaphorically. We cut our soul/psyche.
We carve out our identity with the painful tool of others. It’s taking the barbs, the blades and weapons other people use to hurt us and turning them upon ourselves.
Scar by scar, the wrongs, the mistakes and failures become etched into us. Nothing but a wretched being unworthy of love and care.
This outlook tends to compel us to remain alone. This further compounds the problem because now there is evidence to back it up. People are not talking to you.
So it becomes a downward spiral. Despair feeding more despair. Just the flicker of hope is left.
This negative spiral takes place because of a toxic notion of purity. It creates suffering but also fails to acknowledge that reality is messy, that people can be idiotic, cruel and unkind.
Also, it’s based upon a dubious asset of definitions.
We say that anger is a negative emotion. But that’s simplistic because getting angry can be a good thing. We get angry at perceived injustice. It gives us the motivation to fight against.
Our so-called flaws aren’t flaws but characteristics. Traits that can be useful or dangerous.
Evolution doesn’t operate on perfection either. In a changing world, you can’t be perfect. In biology when a cell divides into two the genome is replicated. However this process is not perfect, errors are made and mutated genes are created. Some of the mutations are beneficial, others are harmful, the rest provide no net gain or impediment. Without such ‘mistakes’ evolution, change would not be possible,
A perfect copy is a clone, But such copies would leave the humans race vulnerable to disease. Adaptation would no longer be possible if we cloned ourselves.
Perfection is turning away from the harsh reality that life and the world are not simple, easy, clear, pure, or clean.
The truth is people can’t be split down the middle, simplified, leaving only the ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’ part.
It’s like a personal form of gentrification getting rid of the ugliness. But it leaves us feeling like a fake. As if we’re wearing a mask that’s always in danger of slipping.
It’s from a toxic society that we have this idea of perfection. To find our happiness we have to let go of the idea of perfection and purity and the idea that our society is always there to help us.
Denying what exists is illogical and it doesn’t work. The road to happiness is based upon acceptance. We must deal with reality in all its messy complexity, including the parts we don’t like. To know and take back the dark side of our characters.
It’s a difficult but liberating process along the road to address our suffering.