The Common Good

What's So Great About Perfection?

Two Sunday meetings prevented my going to the country with the family.

Peaceful morning fishing, Jandrie Lombard /
Peaceful morning fishing, Jandrie Lombard /

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So on Saturday, I took a long walk up the Hudson River and then sat beside an open window overlooking the apartment house courtyard and felt a cool breeze.

No, it wasn’t the same as a screened porch upstate. But it worked. Why? Because I made it work. I was motivated to step away from my desk and do something different.

Could I have had a more perfect day? Sure, I suppose so. But I didn’t need perfection. I just needed something different. Yes, I was “settling,” as they term it. But that’s part of maturity: knowing that progress matters more than perfection. Sometimes you don’t get exactly what you want, and making do can be enough. Tweaking the day can make it a better day.

Yet many people continue to chase perfection and refuse to compromise with realities that fall short.

For example, politics is about the art of compromise. But some in Washington have rejected anything short of getting their way, being declared right, and utterly destroying their opponents. Like petulant children, they are threatening to hold their breath until opponents give in. Destroy the economy? OK, if that is what it takes to prevail. Hurt millions in order to advance a partisan agenda? OK, collateral damage.

Wisdom and maturity would say: Sit beside an open window and relax. You can’t control everything. Do what you can, and then make do.

I am intrigued that the consistently tone-deaf Clinton family is said to be renting a house in the oh-so-tony Hamptons for an estimated $100,000 a week, at a time when Hillary Clinton is apparently prepping to run for president of a nation being cruelly plundered by the entitled class. How important is it to have the perfect beach house?

With most Americans making do, this is hardly the time to set perfection as a personal life goal. In fact, it is profoundly unwise and immature to scorn the compromises that one’s neighbors are making. If a family of four could eat for a week on the price of a best-in-Manhattan restaurant meal, maybe it’s okay to settle for good enough.

Perfection is a savage god, you see. It doesn’t just isolate you from other people. Perfection corrupts your soul by making an idol of your tastes and preferences. Perfection can make you a monster, like the religious extremist who will blow up children in order to defend an ideology that shouldn’t need such defending.

Perfection declares imperfect ideas as empty, everyday needs as unimportant, and imperfect persons as worthless. Thus are spawned demonic forces.

Grim necessity is forcing most of us to learn the art of making do. And you know, it isn’t so bad.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of Just Wondering, Jesus and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich. Via RNS.

Image: Peaceful morning fishing, Jandrie Lombard /

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