Human beings have a tendency to place other human beings on a pedestal. We look for examples of perfection and hold them up in contrast with the fallibility of the rest of us. Perfection is the ideal, the aspiration, the pinnacle. We long for it. And yet, more often than not, it turns out to be a mirage, a form of wishful thinking.
It's a story as old as time. A portrait of perfection is toppled when someone gets close enough to the person in question to see the truth (which is that some people are better than others, but none of us are truly perfect or infallible). An old Indian aphorism exemplifies this when it tells us that spiritual masters are like fire. If you are too far away, you get no heat. If you come too close, you get burned.
For most of us, if not all, perfection is not in the cards. But progress is. And we can all strive to be better.
Why Choose Progress?
Encouraging people to choose progress over perfection has become a staple in psychology, especially in cognitive behavioral therapy. In his landmark book, Feeling Good, one of the pioneers of CBT, David D. Burns wrote:
“Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person.”
Happier and more productive. That sounds like a recipe for creating harmony from within.
Setting Ourselves Up for Failure
If this is true about individuals, isn’t it doubly true about groups? Aren’t we setting ourselves up for failure by aiming for perfect interactions or expecting too much from each other?
In fields such as interfaith work, community bridge building and social harmony, we cannot allow ourselves to be tempted by perfection. If we are expecting flawlessness, we will fail to see progress. For example:
The list of unrealistic expectations is endless. The need for perfection masks the real progress that is being made.
Perfection is an Illusion
Perfection is a tempting illusion. We all want it to be true but then we fail to come up with real world examples of it. Sure, it’s easy to project perfection on people who have died. I understand that. When my father died in 2004, everyone who spoke to me about him made it sound like he had never done anything wrong in his life. The truth was much more complex.
If we keep chasing the illusion of perfection it will likely lead to a slew disappointments or an unwillingness to face the complexity of life. To quote Burns again:
“Perfection' is man's ultimate illusion. It simply doesn't exist in the universe.... If you are a perfectionist, you are guaranteed to be a loser in whatever you do.”
Harsh but true.
We Choose Progress
An old saying goes: “By the yard it’s hard, but inch by inch everything is a cinch.” There is a reason why ‘progress over perfection’ is one of the values we hold dear in our organization. We believe in step-by-step improvements. We believe in moving in the right direction. We believe in setting ourselves and the people we work with up for success. We believe in striving to be better while accepting that we are human.
That doesn’t mean we have set our sights low. We firmly believe in the human ability to be better and progress towards harmony. Sometimes we progress step-by-step, other times we’ll settle for an inch at a time.
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Bridge Building and Social Harmony
We are an educational and social good interfaith organization. We envision a world where people have access to strategies, methods and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge building across divides. To us, interfaith means the continual improvement of interrelations between people who strongly believe in different worldviews.
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©Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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