I recently heard about a scientific study that involved ‘improving sports.’ I found the desire to remove mistakes from sports refereeing to be a good example of the two sides of an issue that society currently faces in all areas of life.
Our drive for fairness is admirable and natural and is at the heart of cooperative societies, but our simultaneous discomfort with normal, progressive human fallibility can become obsessive, as it currently feels it’s becoming.
A recent study found that baseball referees made wrong calls on pitches about 10% of the time. That made sense considering what they are doing, which is to track a tiny, high speed object through a fictional piece of three-dimensional space. Missing only 10% felt very impressive to me. Refs getting calls wrong is a part of the drama of a game. But to the researcher, this was something to be fixed.
Indeed, we can attempt to ‘fix’ that with technology but the question becomes, do all of these perfections in all areas of life lead humans to develop entirely unrealistic expectations about other as yet-imperfect human systems, or even about other people or ourselves? Did we teach ourselves perfectionism by trying to perfect everything around us?
We’re in gyms because we don’t think we’re perfect enough. We alter our diets because we don’t think we’re perfect enough. We redecorate and dress ourselves in repeated attempts to attain perfection. We even fear death because we’re so sure that one lifetime isn’t enough to make the case for our own value, because those mistakes keep bringing our value down –we think.
Technology and systems improve over time because each generation can build upon the one before it. But every generation starts off ignorant to the emotional challenges in life, and we all must face them individually. Maturing is learning, and learning involves being wrong, there is no getting around it.
The struggle through life is our life. That is what it is to mature, to grow and to partake in the rewards of living. To mistake the struggle toward perfection to be a failure to achieve perfection is to lose the value inherent in mortality.
Vampires are doomed to an eternity where they can perfect their external selves, but nothing can save them from the eternal horror of watching all of their great loves age and pass on. Only humans are granted the grace of a temporary state, and the great loves that go with the preciousness of limited time.
With all the wonderful experiences available in life, we are better not to waste that time worshipping the notion of perfection.
If we seek perfection our ‘improvements’ to ourselves and the world can ultimately do more damage to our lives than good. But that can only happen when we have failed to notice the value of limited time.
Improvements are positive, but they come to us just as much from our enjoyment of life as from our efforts to consciously improve. It is important for each of us to not get so attached to being better that we forget to simply be at all.
What you seek, you shall never find.
For when Gods made man,
They kept immortality for themselves.
Fill your belly.
Day and night make merry,
Let Days be full of joy.
Love the child that holds your hand.
Let your wife delight in your embrace.
For those alone are the concerns of man.
– The Epic of Gilgamesh
Forget perfection. Today, just live.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.