Monday, March 2, 2009

Tolerance... Not! Perfection

Because I had a tendency to hold up the process of testing and quality control on my job, my supervisor once remarked that, "if we waited for every system to be perfect, we’d never ship anything." I had to agree that he was right, but that doesn’t mean that I was ever comfortable with that idea. In fact, I later became the company’s technical writer mostly because the engineers were never able to design our products so that it was obvious how to operate them.

I’ve had such a problem dealing with the ramifications of my perfectionism - if you only knew the massive amounts of time I have spent just writing and editing these articles - that I think a look at the subject of human perfection is in order. As for the attitude that most people seem to take towards people like me, I think Pink Floyd’s song Not Now John is a fair representation:

"Fuck all that we’ve got to get on with these
Got to compete with the wily Japanese
There’s too many home fires burning and not enough trees
So fuck all that we’ve got to get on with these...

Not now John we’ve got to get on with the film show
Hollywood waits at the end of the rainbow
Who cares what it’s about as long as the kids go
So not now John we’ve got to get on with the show..."

Even those who aren’t so callous in their views on getting things done, most of whom owe their ’gentleness’ of attitude to a religious upbringing, think that it’s ’sinful’ somehow for a human to strive for perfection in the things he does or in his life in general. While I completely agree that things must get done and products must be shipped, I have a problem when it comes to avoiding the idea of human perfection altogether. How else do we continue to move up the evolutionary ladder?

I realize that some will object to my reference to evolution, but I made that reference specifically because of the fundamental conflict that exists between the various views on how we got where we are and how we will survive and move forward in the future. I have to wonder if those amidst this raging debate have ever considered that, regardless whether one thinks we got here through divine action or random happenstance, we absolutely need something better than the our interpretations of the past to guide us into the future.

Perhaps a start on that can be achieved through a good definition of just what a 'perfect human' would be. My personal view is that, since absolute perfection is impossible for beings who don’t possess the power of omniscience, human perfection is better thought of as a road on which those who strive for perfection must travel. And while the occasional detour is to be expected - after all, trial and error is a fundamental part of the learning process - striving to stay on the road is absolutely essential.

Those who would treat as weird those of us who tend towards obsession when it comes to getting things right should remember that all of those people in history that we hold up as examples of human greatness were considered weird for their obsessive behaviors as well. While I may never be considered qualified to stand amongst those great people, I have no doubt that they were just as disgusted as I now am at the way creative people are treated.

After all, if more people considered it their duty to travel down the road to perfection, then perhaps the rest of us wouldn’t have to be so obsessive about our own pursuits. If nothing else, we wouldn’t be such a rarity that we seem weird by comparison.

I want ice water.


  1. you know, i spent my whole life striving for perfection too, but i dont think anybody would have noticed on the outside. maybe actually i didnt strive for it, but i wanted it. i think everybody has some area of their lives where they are immovable on what is the ideal. some people it's their looks, other people it's their popularity, other people it's the standard to which they do their job. when i was in my early 20's i truly began striving for perfection - but it was inner perfection. i wanted to be chirst-like in my humility... a perfect human Be-ing.
    but ive realised that perfection doesnt exist, because nothing is imperfect. because we have evolved to have self-reflexive thought, we began to judge ourselves, and this is where the notion of perfection came in. actually, the more one accept themselves for everything they do that they hate, the more they will find they do the things that they believe are on the route to perfection.


  2. Again, great thoughts! Even though I'm kind of a non-believer, my attempts to build a rational morality for myself often leads me to the same conclusions as those who are. And that's the perfection I strive for - a rational existence with a code of morality that works, and no one, not even a God, to blame for my failures but myself.

    Keep the faith.


  3. definitely... someone once said to me that within science, biology, chemistry and physics are all saying the same things in different ways. i think it's true of psychology, spirituality, rationality etc. if people approach life with the same energy, they come to the same conclusions no matter what belief system they subscribe to (non-believing is also a belief ;) )

    i'm not actually a christian - i'm not even sure if christ existed, but i think his energy does exist... that energy, in human form, was my vision of perfection.

    although now that's gone ;)