Falling Upward

For those who know me, know that I think of perfectionism as an insidious disease infecting families, the work place and the church place, as well as political life, and anywhere people congregate. I think that “failing in the right direction” is the only sure way for people to grow and to become who they long to be.

Yes, you read that right. I believe in failing, planfully, playfully and purposefully. (Can you see the intended error in the last sentence?) The question about failure is more “what direction will you fail?” It is not about not failing. It is about choosing how you will fail in anticipation of a greater success, a better thing.

Trying to be perfect is doomed before the work has been initiated. And it is the least likely motivation to reach excellence (“You do know that excellence and perfection are quite different things, don’t you?”). And perfectionism is ethically questionable as well — like “cheating in the pursuit of excellence.”

Have I confused you sufficiently? Read from Richard Rohr who says much more and much more clearly than I can.

We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens; yet nothing in us wants to believe it….

If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own. What a clever place for God to hide holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it! A “perfect” person ends up being one who can consciously forgive and include imperfection rather than one who thinks he or she is totally above and beyond imperfection.

It becomes sort of obvious once you say it out loud. In fact, I would say that the demand for the perfect is the greatest enemy of the good. Perfection is a mathematical or divine concept, goodness is a beautiful human concept that includes us all.

To read more of Richard Rohr, see the “Center for Action and Contemplation.”