The Perfection of Imperfection
It is in human nature, that is, in the illusion of human nature created by capitalism, to strive for the best, for perfection. We are trained to strive for perfection from an earliest of age: trained to be the best in school, the best in sports, to attend the best colleges, to want the best jobs, computers, cars, doctors, books, movies, food, designers, hair colour, body ... (ah, this constant frustration caused by an unattainable perfect body). On one hand, we are pressured to achieve our own perfection which, paradoxically, becomes a useless goal because we are not able to recognize it without an external confirmation that what we do/choose is really the best. Finally, we are guided by the idea that no one wants to watch/have something mediocre. Is perfectionism really a good goal and a strategy around which we want to organize our lives? Or is this a case of a contemporary neurosis that creates wrong assessments and perspectives of ourselves and others?
Without glorifying failure, I'm trying to resolve my own dilemmas over the notion of perfectionism, more precisely, not to experience my failures so fatally. Failure as the worst option possible is a nightmare lurking behind every fantasy of doing something. And yes, I'm scared of failure; I'm ashamed of failure because it is equalized with the bad, inadequate, unworthy. Failure means that we did something wrong, the responsibility lies completely with the individual. But at one point, I began to identify failure with the unachieved hundred percent efficiency. Each mistake I made I began to perceive as failure. The situation had begun to take hold – the schizophrenia of criteria and the belief in my own inadequacy – and the boundaries between the bad, averages, good and the exceptional completely vanished. Interestingly enough, I would forgive other people's mistakes, but mine were inexcusable.
Caught in a new situation, without a plan to achieve perfect results, moreover, caught in a (work) situation where it was completely impossible to achieve even a remotely satisfactory objective (combined classes, author's comment), I had to drastically change my approach. Suddenly, the effort I put in and the work I did became more important than reaching the goal, while the mistakes I made had become a valuable platform for learning. There were no rules for the work I was doing, so there wasn't a perfectly defined objective to be pursued. In my own interpretation of ends and means, some wonderful and some less wonderful things happened. But the experience was personal, extremely imperfect and unpredictable. The immense diversity and richness began to unravel in imperfection. What I would before categorize as failure has now changed its parameters. If there is a pattern of perfection, in theory, it would actually lead to a repetitive kitsch. I accept the fact that, in practice, on the road to perfection (which ultimately does not need to be reached), there are a number of mistakes and incredibly many possible outcomes. From the imperfections and mistakes, innovation and progress are born. The imperfection is uniqueness.
In such a state of mental flux, I learned about the Japanese concept of wabi sabi. Without possessing a detailed knowledge of Zen Buddhism, I was immensely intrigued with the philosophy that celebrates beauty in all that is natural, and that is per se imperfect and flawed. It is a teaching that recognizes the asymmetry, irregularity and modesty as the attributes of the beautiful. In a very practical sense, wabi sabi invites individuals to consider imperfections, such as a chip on the glass vase or a hole in the clothes, as an inherent value.
However, this does not mean that approaching life through wabi sabi entails the appreciation of negligence or seeing mistakes through rose-coloured glasses. It entails the appreciation, display and acceptance of what is natural to both nature and man.
Last year, my grandmother turned 91. She has been knitting all her life, except for the last twenty years, when her fingers started to irreversibly cramp. They eventually began looking like some kind of roots, losing the flexibility of joints and becoming unusable. This somewhat grotesque expressivity of fingers was quite a challenge when a year ago she started knitting again, deciding that she wanted to knit me a shirt. The outcome displayed a natural state of things – wabi sabi. The knitted shirt was full of dropped loop stiches. Although technically imperfect, it couldn't be more unique, more perfect than it was.
And finally, I allow myself to use Cohen's poetical quote: “There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.”