The terrible thing about our time is precisely the ease with which theories can be put into practice. The more perfect, the more idealistic the theories, the more dreadful their realization. We are at last beginning to rediscover perhaps what people knew better in very ancient times, in primitive times before utopias were thought of: that liberty is bound up with imperfection, and that limitations, imperfections, errors are not only unavoidable but also salutary.
The best is not the ideal. Where what is theoretically best is imposed on everyone as the norm, then there is no longer any room even to be good. The best, imposed as a norm, becomes evil…
People are constantly trying to use you to help them create the particular illusions by which they live. This is particularly true of the collective illusions which sometimes are accepted as ideologies. You must renounce and sacrifice the approval that is only a bribe enlisting your support of a collective illusion. You must not allow yourself to be represented as someone in whom a few of the favourite daydreams of the public have come true. You must be willing, if necessary, to become a disturbing and therefore undesired person, one who is not wanted because they upset the general dream. But be careful that you do not do this in the service of some other dream that is only a little less general and therefore seems to you to be more real because it is more exclusive!
– Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton (alt.)
A meta-analysis concerning perfectionism was released in 2018: it is a study of studies. The phenomenon of perfectionism is multidimensional, carrying both positive benefits and negative consequences for both individuals and organizations. This striving for flawlessness, accompanied by excessively high performance expectations and critical self-evaluation create substantial pressure and negative impact on one’s well-being. Psychological inflexibility and rigidity create an all-or-nothing judgment of one’s own and other’s performances.
This study points out that millennials are significantly more inclined toward perfectionism than previous generations. Dr. Simon Sherry (Dalhousie University) states that perfectionism has become an epidemic with dire consequences in modern western society and is likely a contributor to the rising tide of mental health problems being faced across the West today, and commonly manifests both directly and indirectly as neurosis. The unprecedented pressure to perform reflects unrealistic standards. Culture-wide skepticism toward social media images and expectations needs greater cultivation. Biologically, brains do not stop major development until a person’s late twenties. Performance-contingency can have lifelong, devastating impacts on individuals and social groups when placed on children and young adults. When people are only as good as their last actions the conditionality of love skews the person and works to legitimize yet again our (newest) collective illusions.
As Catholic Workers we are bound to question the manner in which the rise in perfectionism and its ensuing neuroses manifest themselves in the social expectations of those with whom we work and also in our own lives.
Learn to make mistakes. Watch Office Space again. After all, it is Lent.