Monday, June 4, 2018

Imperfection is liberating

Nobody's perfect - and that's a good thing!

I often get annoyed when I see motivational slogans like: "You're perfect just the way you are" or "Don't let anyone tell you to change". These sentiments are supposed to increase people's self-confidence and self-love, but it seems to me that they're wrong in two ways.

First of all, what is perfection anyway? People have so many different characteristics that even if we could agree on what perfection is in each of them, nobody could be perfect in all of the characteristics. Indeed, some are contradictory. You can't be a perfect introvert and also a perfect extrovert.

Secondly, to tell someone they're already perfect and don't need to change is to stifle their growth. It means they should freeze themselves as they are and never develop, never acquire any new skills or traits. Also, people may have some negative characteristics and attitudes that are really worth changing, for their own sake and for the sake of others around them. They are imperfect in a negative way that actually requires some work.

We are all born as helpless babies with some predispositions, tendencies, and personality traits already present. From this moment onwards, we grow and change as a result of the interaction between nature and nurture. If we are lucky, our nurture will encourage our innate strengths and steer us away from our innate weaknesses. For example, encourage us to develop our musical talent or our writing skill, while not exposing those with a predisposition to addiction to the dangerous behaviours that can destroy lives.

Acknowledging that there's no such thing as perfection, and that we'll never be perfect, frees us to decide what to learn in life and how to develop. We can improve in whatever direction we want, from whatever starting point we happen to be at. It's never too late to change and grow, and because we don't have to be perfect, we can be anywhere on the scale. If our criterion is not perfection but progress, we can balance having a positive self-image with having a desire to continue improving.

I would prefer the motivational slogans to say: "You are imperfect and therefore free to change in whatever way you choose" and "If someone points out something you should change, decide if that's something worth changing, they might be right".