I’m not prone to sermonizing in this blog—or anywhere else for that matter, but I was inspired by a wonderful short piece, "Coyote," in the current issue of The New Yorker. I’ve provided a link to the essay because I’m about to take all the fun out of it, and that’s not fair to either you or Rebecca Solnit, the author.
The worldview, religious or philosophical, that most of us have been steeped in draws a sharp distinction between the perfect and the imperfect. We are, as we are often told, imperfect creatures who nonetheless strive to be perfect, and in our failure we suffer all the attendant anxiety and guilt. In some versions we are doomed, in others we can be saved. Whatever the version, we can’t make ourselves perfect no matter how hard we try. We bear the burden of always being imperfect. We make mistakes, we disappoint others, we disappoint ourselves.
Or, in Solnit’s much more vivid prose, “The angel with the flaming sword kept us out of Eden because we talked to snakes and made a bad choice about fruit snacks. Everything that followed was an affliction and a curse. Redemption was required, because perfection was the standard by which everything would be measured, and against which everything would fall short.”
What if, in keeping with Coyote cosmology, we simply scrap the notion of perfection? What if everything is just better or worse and nothing is perfect? Wouldn’t that make life much more manageable? Wouldn’t we actually stand a chance of becoming better if we didn’t beat ourselves up every time we stumbled and fell short of some self-sabotaging notion of perfection?
Let me pause here to say that those who regard this suggestion as heresy should pretend they never read it. I’m not interested in engaging in theological debate. I’m writing, after all, for those of us who inhabit what is usually considered to be the house of mammon, though I hope we’re also trying to be good stewards of this earth.
The message is this. In 2015, strive to be good, better, and, if you swim in a small enough pond, best, but never perfect. Perfection is a mirage. End of sermon. No amen necessary.