In the mid-60s, while studying at Northwestern as a young priest, I went to one of those sensitivity weekends that were in vogue back then. I did not know what I was walking into, even though at the time I had been studying group dynamics. I went as “Charlie” but somewhere into the process of “letting it all hang out,” it became evident that I was “Father Charlie,” a priest. Someone commented, “It must be hell to have to be perfect all the time.” I almost said, “You got that right,” (Was I ever that young?) but caught myself and said instead, “Who’s perfect?” That was about all I took from the weekend, and quite enough, since I was too closed in to myself at the time to risk really being known.
Being a Virgo qualifies me to write about perfection since the stars have ordained me a perfectionist. (Ha! Do not tell anyone who knows me, please.) Also, as a therapist I worked with many who were convinced they could or should be perfect. Consequently, over the years I I learned a thing or two about the subject:
– Perfection can be poison to one’s soul. Living with the always feeling that something is not right works directly against accepting what is. Perfectionists tend to measure themselves against un-reality, setting themselves up to constantly come up short. They live being conscious of what they are not instead of who they are. Nothing feeds low self image more than failure and there is no greater nursery for that than the demands of perfection.
– A perfect anything or anyone this side of heaven is a lie unless, of course, one is speaking relatively or metaphorically. Ours is a human, finite world and we, in our humanness, need to accept our world, our selves and others as works in progress. Acceptance does not mean settling for; it is simply a reality check. It is also where and how anyone begins to change, to become better and, hopefully, the best one can be. But here in time’s embrace even one’s best will never be perfect.
– Perfection ultimately becomes a prison, either of one’s own making or others’ who have locked one in to the idea of what one should be. (Absent love, such demands are called control or even abuse.) But it is a prison one can break out of by being clear enough about the truth of humanness and accepting it. Life is difficult enough just being human. When one, for whatever reason, tries to be more than that, he or she works against the unique, if finite, gift they happen to be.
“Be ye perfect …” is certainly something anyone can wish or strive for, as long as they accept that perfection is not to be had short of eternity. Being and becoming the best one can be will certainly help in getting there once one finds clarity and a certain freedom in their humanness.
Serious perfectionists, more often than not, have little or no sense of humor. They are too busy living in the middle of wars of their own making. If they can become aware of doing that number on themselves and learn to laugh about it, they should be halfway home to owning the realities of life.