Perfect is poison

I have been striving for perfection and decided it needs to stop.

Aiming to do a good/great/really awesome job at something is not a bad thing to do, but there comes a point when one claps the dust off their hands, tilts their head to admire the arduous work just finished, and moves on. Perfectionism prevents this- we start to dwell and not live in the present. There’s that one little smudge that if corrected, will make us feel satisfied. But there is always another smudge. 
 I learned this week that perfectionism does something else dangerous too: it allows us in our own mind to separate ourselves from other beings and things in the world. I might say “At least I’ve done more x than so and so, or got a better grade than…” But at the core of my humanness, I am not better than anyone, anything. At the beginning of time, I was one with the exact only mass that existed and there was no such thing as difference.

Cavities are no fun, we can probably all agree to this statement. On Thursday morning, I went to get my first one drilled and filled. I am almost 30 years old. When my dentist called to tell me what needed to be done, I hung up the phone and cried. “You’ve ruined it,” I heard myself say. “Your teeth are no longer perfect.” To make matters worse, I started naming all the people I knew who had cavities so I wouldn’t feel alone. 

PC: Kazuend

Of course my teeth were never perfect. For the first time, I had actual decay bad enough that this tooth transformed into a rotting mass. Change is constant, especially in our bodies. I spent the rest of the day moping because the right side of my face felt numb and because I allowed the feelings of worthlessness and failure to permeate- I listened to them, instead of simply hearing them and letting them go. Then on Friday, Google posted something really cool on their front page.

I clicked the link and read about the NAACP Silent Parade on 5th Avenue 100 years ago to demand federal action over the killing of innocent black men. 100 years ago was 1917- the same year Congress signed the immigration bill that barred immigration from the Asia-Pacific region, and marked the beginning of the United States’ retreat into isolationism. Doesn’t this sound almost exactly like our country at this very moment? In 2017? Have all our efforts led us to the exact same place in time- one in which folx feel unheard, unseen and unloved? 

As I read about the 10,000 protestors who marched through the city, wearing uniform white, I found no reassurance or comfort in the fact that we are fighting the same fight with different props and technologies. This is why seeking separation is harmful. I once heard a friend who, when discussing the systems of oppression in our society, argued that “we MUST have made some progress. It’s 50 years later!” 

Seeking to separate myself, even in merit or achievement, upholds this false notion that progress must come with the passage of time. That is not a requirement. I think St necessary to lessen the separation I feel from the people around me, and even the people who marched 100 years ago because we cannot write off their experience as something else. I am not perfect, the smudge will remain. 

 

Is Gratitude a Privilege?

…the short answer to the above question is yes, insofar as it concerns me and the following response.

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PC: Ian Schneider

I have been feeling a need to express more gratitude lately. Perhaps this is natural, given the climate, or the weather, or just exhaustion beyond explanation. Endorphins? Maybe the fact that Thanksgiving is this week? I’m not sure, but at the same time have been feeling a sense of frozenness, an inability to make decisions or take action. For the longest time, it felt like my perfectionism was acting up and I kept telling myself I would finish certain tasks (including emailing important people back, ehem) once I had drafted a thorough, complete response read over several times. The problem is, what does complete look like? What happens when we are never “ready?”

I was thinking about this question particularly in regard to learning allyship. At my university, we’ve been talking about best practices and how we can support students who are threatened and afraid. Do we wear the safety pins? Do we make public statements? How do we show up for each other in meaningful ways? So many uncertainties and yet, there is no time to seek the answer before something needs to be done. The time is NOW. Attempting perfection inhibits change and has encumbered me from supporting those who need to be held the most. So, as a white woman, I’m going to throw perfection out the window and trying to learn as I go. Is this dangerous? Yes. My “learning opportunities” can certainly be harmful. The damage is real. Taking action can, however, take the pressure off those I’d like to support, because waiting for complete knowledge around the “how” means the oppressed are tasked with figuring it out, and I sit and wait. We, human beings, are not perfect. We are inchoate. We are unfinished. And yet, we love and are loved.

This rambling comes in thinking about gratitude, to return full circle. One of my students challenged me about a month ago to do something every night: name one thing I appreciate about someone who otherwise gives me trouble, and name three things I love about myself. Can you guess which one is harder? In reality, it depends on the day. Every night, she has consistently reminded me to report my 1 and 3 to her, and in turn I ask her back. At first this practice seemed impossible. “He just makes me SO mad!” I thought, “How can I appreciate anything?” Moreover, putting aside self-loathing sounds simple but, of course the loathing is complicated. Slowly but surely, we have made progress together. Sure, some days still seem untenable- you know the ones. This past Friday, this student was in my office and we had a lengthy conversation about gratitude and what it really means.

As I understand now, gratitude requires faith in the imperfect. It means feeling thankful despite the suffering present in the world, in my life. It also requires mindfulness: a sense of feeling genuine in the present. When I feel grateful, I am not taking a backseat and determining that everything “will work itself out.” I am acknowledging that there are in fact slivers of hope, pieces of love to hold as we march into the darkness. I am grateful for the challenges, even if on certain days, they feel insurmountable to address. Gratitude is a call to action, not complacency- this is the difference between ignoring privilege and acknowledging it.