Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > July 2020

Imperfection is OK; understanding is golden.

In the modern world, people tend to be focused on achieving perfection. Businesses seek continuous improvement, in sports the goal is first place, and in movies we idolize fictional heroes who save the world.

Improvement is a good thing, and we have been the beneficiary of incredible progress over the course of history. But if we give continual attention in our lives to the gap between reality and perfection, there is a tendency to feel inadequate and disappointed. We may be harsh to ourselves, our family, and our friends because of perceived imperfections.

At such times it is important to recognize that imperfection is normal, and even necessary.

In science, there is no theory so perfect that it cannot be improved upon. Every theory has flaws, and if it were not so, all the scientists could hang up their lab coats and retire.

And in engineering, there will always be more to be invented, else also the engineers would have nothing to do. The patent office could be closed permanently.

And if each person was always 100% happy, there would be no unfulfilled motive, and no experimentation and learning that is undertaken in order to address the gap. For normal functioning of a human, there must at times be conditions that are less than 100% happy.

It's fine to work on "closing the gap," but also it's helpful to recognize that some imperfection is inevitable, and not to "beat one's self up" over imperfections. It is better to be your own best friend, which involves more encouragement than criticism.

Likewise, it is helpful to be understanding that other people won't necessarily fit your idea of perfection. It is easy for parents to be critical of their children, or of each other, because of high aspirations. But perfection is a somewhat imprecise concept. Individuals have different preferences of what they enjoy and aspire to, and one person's concept will not be exactly what someone else wants. When a person understands that, he (or she) will tend to be more at-ease and have happier relations with other people.

As an example of that, I think of my grandparents, who seemed to me to be a very happy couple as I recall from my childhood. They were both very kind, which is something they had in common. My grandfather was an electrical engineer by trade, and also he was a steam engineer (which shows you how far back in time his career went!). He was a handyman and he liked to build and invent things. When I was a child, on many occasions he invited me to his workshop where he would build a toy for me--which I much appreciated!

Although my grandparents had many values in common, there were differences too. My grandmother liked to participate in social organizations, while my grandfather did not. So, for example, my grandmother would attend a church but my grandfather didn't go with her. But when a few church members were gathering in an early stage of planning to start a new congregation, my grandfather was quite hospitable to invite them to hold the meetings at his home. He was OK to have people visit, but he didn't want to go out to attend meetings.

This difference could have been a matter of contention between them, as each might have their own thoughts of how their social life "ought to be handled." Nevertheless, it didn't seem to be a problem to them. My grandfather died a few years after retirement, with my grandmother outliving him for many years. She had fond memories of him, and as far as I could tell, she had no regrets about their relationship together.

So, my thought for this month, is to have understanding of other people, and appreciate the good things about them without worrying yourself about small differences. Realize that they won't always fit your concept of a perfect family member, perfect friend, or perfect colleague. Realize that they may feel inadequate sometimes, and inwardly lack confidence, even though they may not show it openly. Encourage others for what they do well, appreciate the things you do together that work out well between you, and leave good memories behind.

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