Why is the perfect the enemy of the good?
We have many expectations in life, we might want to have a perfect day on our birthdays, we endeavour to be the perfect sister or son, we love the idea of a perfect record and in our work we seek faultless perfection. Our societies try to reach out towards a perfect state of being, trying to reach the status of Utopia's, though who's standards that Utopia would be measured by, probably scares more people than it inspires.
And wherever there is fear, it is worth examining the resistance that caused it and it is perhaps our first clue as to why perfection might actually be something to avoid. There is definitely a fear out there, that an Utopia, would only be perfect for what that society defined as a perfect person, we fear the dictatorship of perfection, its inability to tolerate anything less than perfection. It is a horror movie that comes to life in the form of an office of perfection with agents seeking out and removing anyone failing to live up to such a standard. Even if you had a benevolent dictator or leadership, most people will be uncomfortable being imperfect in such a society. Anyone who has spent any time meditating knows how illusionary any standard of perfection would be, any examination of your thoughts reveals not just their imperfection but just how contrary and extreme thoughts can be, even when you think of someone you love, those feelings never operate in isolation, there are always thoughts of resentment, anger and constriction, that accompany them. The mind loves to play devils advocate, it will poke you with opposite thoughts to check that they are not your real thoughts and feelings about the situation or person, it likes to try on every shoe in the shop and check that they are not what you really think.
If we cannot even find perfection within ourselves, why do we even try to reach perfection in our professional lives, passions or work. As a self-confessed obsessive, one who loves a meaningful phrase, well written sentence and a beautiful piece of prose. I've never once come across a piece of writing that I would regard as perfect, I may think the hobbit to be one of the most charming children's story I have ever read, but perfect, it is not and Tolkien would have regarded anyone who thought it was, a fool. The Way, Tao Te Ching, is greatest book about enlightenment and I have read many different translations of it, and even if there was a perfect translation of it, there are words that are not even used in China any more, they are as familiar to them as the language of builders of Stonehenge would be to us, and yet it is one the most meaningful books to me that I've ever read, but it is not perfect, the author, Lao Tzu, says that it would be impossible for it to be perfect as it was trying to describe the experience of perfection.
Given that words are merely labels, approximations for our common experience of things that we appear to share our versions of reality, they are inherently imperfect in and of themselves. What I experience as an apple might be radically different from what you experience as an apple, certainly our mental image will be different, when I picture an apple, I see a braeburn with a patch of red on its top as it hangs from a tree on a hillock with a slight breeze in the air, you will almost certainly see a different image in your mind and that's before, we even get into the fact that some humans do not even share the experience of green, someone who is colour-blind will experience an apple in a entirely different way from someone who isn't. So if the words we use to write our imperfect labels to begin with, how would it even be possible to write an entire book that was perfect, when the building blocks are imperfect.
However even if it was possible to write a perfect book or even just the perfect paragraph, would we even want to? Setting aside for a moment, the time considerations, every edit of an article for this website is almost as long as writing the first draft, and each edit only adds a marginal gain in quality, and as every edit for these articles, requires it to sit for a day before you can come back to it and edit it again. I could create for myself a never-ending circle, of sending articles back into their documents file, dusting each one off for re-edit and then finding it less than perfect again and returning once again to the needs work file. I could spend a year writing each article, and never attain perfection, and never publish anything, which in itself would defeat the object of writing for others, we do not serve others by waiting for perfection, and no one expects perfection from you or from any teacher, any guidance will do when you're lost in the dark.
It has to be said that writing also gives me something I was not expecting, it helps me think, the process of trying to explaining to someone else increases my understanding in a way that is quite astonishing to me. If I'd been obsessed by perfection, I would still be writing my first article and probably driving myself insane, when we give up such a impossible standard and say good enough is good enough for me, it means you are able to produce so much more work, it keeps it interesting for you to get to cover so much more ground.
However it is perhaps the relief from the tyranny of the perfect that is the greatest gift of all, just being good enough, frees you from an impossible dog collar, and that is something that if you truly thought about it you wouldn't want. If you actually wrote the perfect book, painted the perfect picture or played the perfect game, where would you go from there, perhaps the only rational thing to do would be to stop ever trying as all you could do would be to be as good as you were last time. By being perfect, you come to the end of the road, you can no longer grow, improve or find new ways of doing things and that would be the saddest outcome of all.