In Search of Adequacy

"I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused.
Other men are clear and bright,
But I alone am dim and weak.
Other men are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
Oh I drift like the waves of the sea,
Without direction like the restless wind."

"Everyone else is busy,
But I alone am aimless and depressed.
I am different. 
I am nourished by the great mother."

Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching 20

Have you ever met a happy perfectionist? Probably not. Have you ever met a happy person who lived with a perfectionist? Almost certainly not. Perfection is an ideal rarely achieved. Seeking after it probably stops people from trying more often than it spurs them to excellence. If you think you have to be perfect, every mistake is a disaster. If you are afraid to make mistakes, you may not try to do things where you might fail.

So much human pain and frustration comes from people feeling that they don’t measure up. When we try to live up to impossible standards and ideals, failure is inevitable. If we don’t give ourselves permission to fail, to be flawed, we are likely to feel disappointed and depressed. We learn through trial and error. Error is part of that process. Otherwise learning is just a trial.

If you look at the story of Adam and Eve, the message might be that mistakes are what make us human. It is our nature to listen to bad advice, choose poorly, blame somebody else. It’s a tough deal. We’re out of the Garden of Eden. We know the difference between good and evil. One theory as to why Homo Sapiens may have developed our high foreheads and flat brows is the untold millennia of slapping the heals of our hands against our foreheads.

Jesus taught a message of  forgiveness. He said to love God, love each other, forgive yourself and forgive each other. He didn’t hang around with perfect people. He spent time with deeply flawed, wrong-headed sinners and outcasts. He taught them to wise up and behave, but he knew they would make mistakes. He loved them enough to allow for their making mistakes and taught them how to love one another and themselves through the actions of their everyday lives. Jesus said to forgive one who wrongs you, not seven times, but 70 times 7. In  those days before calculators, he was not suggesting that we stop forgiving after 490 times. He meant just keep doing it. He taught that forgiveness of others and ourselves is an ongoing process.

We may be driven to excellence. We may seek perfection. But excellence requires the development of skill that often comes after repeated failure. Perfection, if such an ideal is attainable at all, is bought only at the cost of many mistakes. We need not be satisfied with failure, but we can tolerate it as part of the learning process.

How do you handle mistakes?
Do you tolerate them in others, but not in yourself?
Do you tolerate them in yourself, but not in others?
Can you forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made that may have harmed others or damaged your own life?
Can you forgive the mistakes others have made that harmed you?

How easily do you blame yourself?
Do you blame others when you have done something wrong?

How easily do you apologize?
Do you apologize for yourself even when you’ve done nothing wrong?
Does pride get in the way of apology?

What are your expectations for life?
Do you expect life to be a fairy tale with a perpetually happy ending?
Are you looking for the easy way?
Are you willing to risk failure to insure the possibility of success?
Do you do the things you would need to do to meet your own goals and expectations?

Examine your expectations. Where are the illusions?

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© 2002 Tom Barrett