Observations in Perfection

Things are getting weird.

About a month ago, in a fit of frustration, I decided to indefinitely disable my Facebook account, but before I finally clicked that button, I mentioned to someone that I had an epiphany recently, one that I believed would change my life forever. At the risk of sounding a little overly dramatic, please bear with me while I explain.

I’m a nature-lover, and my wife and I love camping and hiking and bicycling. Basically, the outdoors is our living room. As I’ve observed nature, I remembered hearing others’ descriptions of the natural world in quite superlative terms: “purple mountains majesty”, and “God’s country” to name a couple. Every waterfall was a masterpiece, every mighty river a jewel eclipsed by nothing man could ever render. And it just goes on and on. But seeing a mountain in the hazy distance with a lake in the foreground might be enough for some people to start believing in God if they never had any inclination to do so previously. God, I’m sure, appreciates the compliment.

When you look outside your window any summer day, you will probably see God’s handiwork in yours or your neighbor’s garden. But that’s not nature, that’s human activity imposed on nature to make it more pleasing to our eye. Gardening is synthetic. Nature is wild and unkempt. But, on your cultivated rose, you will notice a butterfly, quite a wild thing. It emerged from its cocoon and is now a mature insect preparing to lay eggs for a new generation of caterpillars that will devour your garden. But looking at that butterfly outside your window, you say to yourself, “it’s perfect.”

“Perfect”, we say of butterflies and oak trees and wildflowers and horses. We say that nature is perfect, even though we recognize the imperfections, and we do not label them as flaws. A crack in a rock is not a flaw, but a subtle deviation from its otherwise regular surface. A four-leaf clover is a mutant, a freak. But we don’t label it as such. To us, it brings good luck and a reminder of our youth. Perfect is in the eye of the beholder. Imperfection and defect are as well. We humans are the only critics of our being. Do we imagine that a horse or a dog has any opinion or judgement on our existence? We sure are quick to judge ourselves and others. This is the entire rationale behind fashion magazines and beauty pageants. It also explains a lot of literary characters like Quasimodo, Boo Radley, Don Quixote. From one perspective we can say these characters are flawed. Quasimodo, in Victor Hugo’s “Hunchback” was physically flawed, being born with a disfigured face and body, and being deaf. Radley was a recluse, and rumours of his past swirled around him to a point that people believed he was a monster. And Quixote was simply a neurotic fool (but I certainly identify with him).

When we look at ourselves in the mirror we find fault with almost everything we see. I see that my gut sticks out too much. Others might not like the shape of their ass. Still others will see imperfections with their hair, the size of their nose, or anything else that actually makes us truly unique. But we are not satisfied, and so we shake our heads in disgust. Such is to be human. After all, as it is said, nobody is perfect.

But why can we declare that a tree is perfect? Or a butterfly? Or a rainbow? Surely there are discernable differences among all the butterflies in the world. Can it be that every one of them is perfect? On what can we base this claim, by the way? Under a microscope, I’m sure we could find some flaws. Maybe we don’t have to look that far. Walking through a forest in the Smoky Mountains last year, I found a tree that had been struck by lightning long before, and as a result, it was growing askew, with some branches stunted form the trauma. Perfect? Why not? I mean, the lightning strike was a one in a million chance, perfection from a sports perspective. The best golfer in the world couldn’t manage to hit a target like that. But we don’t call it perfect, but some might recognize beauty in it. And so it is with us.

I know some deeply flawed people. I am one of them. But no one would declare us perfect. Why? Because we hold ourselves to an impossible standard, looking to television or movie stars, supermodels or pop stars. We have defined the “perfect” body. And music gurus recognize “perfect pitch”. Perfect images, perfect sounds, perfect days. Nobody’s perfect? I’m not so sure.

What if you could be perfect? What if you already were? My Roman Catholic upbringing tells me perfection is not mine to possess in this life. I was tought that I would have a perfect “glorified” body in the afterlife. I doubt that. But I do believe in something beyond this life, this world, this dimension. But why can we not be perfect here and now? What is perfection? If we live by the teachings of all the great prophets and Jesus and Siddhartha Gautama and others, can we achieve perfection as prescribed in their words? Is that what perfection is?

Maybe we are already perfect. Maybe we are like the butterfly outside your window, like no other, but just as beautiful. If perfection is simply a state of being satisfied in one’s own skin, that could be fairly simple. This is easier said than done, however. But who is anyone to judge? I’m not sure if we are even qualified to judge ourselves. Is the voice of Karen Carpenter any more or less perfect than that of Joe Cocker? Is Van Gogh’s “Terrace of a café at night” any more or less perfect? Van Gogh was flawed, by some judgements, but we regard his creations and others like them as the best examples of what humans are capable of. You know. Perfect.

I think we can be as perfect as anything else. We’re unnecessarily hard on ourselves. We deserve a break, but don’t slack off. You have a lot of work to do.

Next time, we’ll discuss how none of us is really free.


Douchebag City

Sometimes it’s great being a man. One of my favorite aspects of masculinity is that we guys are constantly evolving – that is, if you’re paying attention and giving half an effort. You see, some of us actually give a shit. I warn my nieces that they need to avoid any serious relationships until about age 36. I speak on behalf of all men that we’re complete idiots at least until age 36, often much later. And there are guys who never grow up. It’s okay to be in touch with your “inner child”; I still like breakfast for dinner once in a while. But we all need to grow up, and men need to act a certain way.

This does not have to mean that guys are supposed to be interested only in sports and swimsuit editions and Barbecues. That’s not what being a man is anyway. You can be into football and be a complete douchebag. You are not a man if you don’t treat people with respect even though you have testicles.

A man does not resort to violence in response to a dispute or to resolve conflict. A man does not verbally assault someone or bully him to make himself feel superior. A man does not allow someone to suffer by doing nothing. A man rinses off his fucking plate after dinner. Hell, a man cooks!

It’s good being a guy, but you have to do it right. Men don’t have babies, and we don’t have cramps. Men are paid more for than women for doing the same job. There are a lot of things we should be mindful of, but we aren’t, and all around the world, it continues. Things could be better.

I was spending some quality male-bonding time with a friend of mine, and he told me about some health concerns he has. He said, “maybe I should see a doctor,” to which I replied that my wife would agree. Men are not really good at taking care of themselves. I think pride is to blame for a lot of this. It’s hard to explain, probably because we are still using our hind-brains to make decisions. Admitting that he is not invincible means a man can’t continue to hold his present place in neolithic society. The realities of human evolution are that, behaviorally, we have outpaced our physical adaptations. While we are not living in caves, we still have that part of our brains that allows us to be constantly on alert, whether it’s a predator or a burglar. Men evolved to be something they needed to be for the last millions years, but the rapid advancement of human society in the last 15,000 years took us all by surprise.

What men are needed to be now is still changing. Fifty years ago, women could not establish credit accounts or open loans on their own. Men had to cosign for their wives. Wives were expected to sacrifice their own dreams and wishes for the sake of their husbands. It wasn’t until the late 60’s that things started to change. But change takes time, even though we’re talking about radical, fundamental changes in the ways that men and women interact. By contrast to the 15,000 years that preceded it, the last half of the 20th century was remarkable.

Back to my point: men are above their instincts. Men are able to think and be thoughtful, to be kind and honest, and to be honorable. Children have to be taught to use words to convey their thoughts and resolve conflict. Men should know this. If you still use your fists to settle a dispute, you are not a man. You are a douchebag, a lesser organism. Unfortunately, men can still act like idiots.

I wish that young women would pay attention. I wish that young men would stop being stupid for just one minute. I wish that the cycle could be broken. The answer is for fathers to be good to their children. Children will learn by example, but we continue to think they listen to our words. They are intelligent, and they develop their social skills early, but they do this by imitating our behavior. If fathers are acting like morons or being horrible people, their kids will grow up to be horrible people, too. If you get drunk and slap your wife around, do not be surprised if your kids do the exact same thing when they get older. You are responsible. You must show them the way. You are the man.