01 Jun

Perfection is a tricky thing. When used in moderation, it can drive us to do better and become better. When used poorly, it can cause us stress and create problems in our lives. I think that most of us understand that perfection is nearly impossible to achieve, and yet many of us spend our entire lives trying to get as close to perfect as possible. I think that’s understandable in a way. We’re taught very early on that perfection is an ideal, and that anything less means that we’re doing something wrong, that we’re mediocre, or that we’ll never be good enough. We’re taught to fear the alternative to perfection, and in some ways, we’re taught that being anything less than your best at all times means you’re a failure.

I also think that many people want to be as close to perfect as possible because we believe that when everything is perfect, we’ll be happier. Everything would be better, and everything would be smoother and easier. The problem with this lies in the fourth sentence in the paragraph above: perfection is impossible to achieve. Especially for long periods of time. We’re flawed beings doing our best to make things work. Imperfection is really an inherent trait of humanity whether we like it or not.

Within our larger society, it’s being shown that the need to be perfect is ruining a lot of lives. It can create unhealthy attitudes towards ourselves and towards others. But what about in our smaller communities? How does perfection play into how we interact with our fellow co-religionists?

I’ve found myself mulling on this a lot recently. There has been a lot of activity within the community as to how people think one should act vs. how people have been acting. There have been disagreements about what should be our standard protocol for behaviour, and in the grand scheme of things, I think it’s a reasonable conversation to have, especially considering how close action and ma’at feed into one another. Being a predominantly orthopraxic religion means that actions speak louder than beliefs, and in order to do our best to live in ma’at, we need to be reflective on what actions are best for ourselves and the community. However, in some instances, I have found myself thinking that people expect too much out of their fellows and peers and expect too little of themselves. It’s very easy to get caught up in what you feel others “should” be doing and too easy to forget that we all make mistakes. As my grandmother used to tell me: “When you point your finger at someone, remember that there are three fingers pointing back at yourself”.

In that spirit, I might be able to make the argument that ma’at and perfection can be seen as being one and the same in a lot of ways. Ma’at is the ideal state of being/acting/doing in Kemeticism. We all strive to behave and act in ma’at and to lace ma’at into everything that we do. However, I’m pretty sure most of us would agree that we fail sometimes. Some of us fail a lot of the time. It’s all part of that being human thing I mentioned above. Like perfection, ma’at can be a useful tool. It can help us strive to become more, to become better. It can be something that enriches and fulfills our life as we learn how to weave it into our daily experiences. However, also like perfection, ma’at can be turned into a bludgeoning tool made to control and belittle others. It can be used to hurt people and make them feel like they are inadequate or that they are failures. This is particularly true when the two are married, and you suddenly see people uttering the words “you are not acting in ma’at” (or alternatively “your actions embody isfet”), which might as well be the same as “you are not hitting the level of perfection that I expect of you, and therefore you are a failure”.

This sort of culture can be incredibly damaging on so many levels. It teaches people that they can never make mistakes within the community without having to bear the stigma of having messed up. It teaches people that if they ever step out of line, they can expect a mob of people to come out and berate them. It teaches us that we have to become an almost fake and unrealistic form of ourselves in order to make people feel comfortable (which reinforces about every form of “ism” you can shake a stick at). Having a bad day? Better not go on the internet lest you make a faux pas. Find out that you made an error in a statement that you made? Good luck moving beyond that because you’re never going to remove that foot from your mouth because we won’t let you.

It makes it so that no one can really have any room to breath because they’re too worried about screwing up. In those instances, our religion becomes less about learning and growing, and more about fitting into a mold that has been laid out for us.

Perfectionism also extends beyond behaviours. There are many who seem to believe that there is a certain level or bar to hit with practices, too. If you’re not offering a certain way, you’re missing that bar of perfection and therefore a failure. If you’re not being historically accurate enough, you’re missing the bar. If you’re making too many jokes, you’re missing the bar. Or dare I say it? Not practicing and/or living in ma’at.

When used poorly, perfectionism stalls people’s growth and desire to try new things in their practice. What could be a warm and loving experience becomes something that is stifling and nerve-wracking. A lot of people come to our religion already afraid they’re going to mess up. Why do we make it worse on people by adding even more unrealistic expectations upon them? Why do we expect everyone to act exactly how we think they should? Why is it that only our personal bars and measures for success ever seem to matter? Why is it that it seems like so many people don’t have the capacity to understand that we are all learning and doing at our own speeds and paces, and doing so in our own ways? There isn’t only one way to do something or to be. Why can’t we learn to give some of our co-religionists some room to fumble around?

Now, with all of this being said, I want to emphasize here that there is an opposite end of this spectrum, too.

I think it goes without saying that I believe that we still have to have some level of standard of decorum within our communities. Not having any rules at all leaves people open and vulnerable to being attacked, abused or manipulated. So please do not take this post to mean that we shouldn’t have any rules at all. Much like with the ma’at comparison made above, it’s about balance and striking a middle ground between the members of our community. It’s about having enough structure to ensure that our members stay safe and aren’t subjected to bigotry or marginalization, but being open enough to allow people to practice freely and safely while interacting with the community. And of course, there are certain rules that I personally feel should be more important than others (such as rules that protect members and people over rules that protect the religious structure or preferences in practice), although others may feel differently.

In the end, I think that we all need to try and remember that none of us is perfect, and it’s unrealistic to expect perfection. We’re all doing the best that we can to try and manage our lives with our religious practices, and everything that is involved with both. We all start somewhere, and we all have our biases to overcome and learn from. And in that spirit, we should all be doing some self-reflection on our own imperfections, not just fussing over the imperfections of others.

How does perfection play into your community experience? Do you find that the pressure for perfection makes interactions difficult? Do you find yourself focusing too much on the imperfections of yourself or of others?

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Posted by on June 1, 2016 in Boat Paddlers Arsenal, Kemeticism


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10 responses to “Perfect

  1. cardsandfeather

    June 1, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Great post! In the past, I was pretty reluctant to comment on anything online (back when livejournal communities were all the rage) because I felt I wasn’t old enough/educated enough/experienced enough to have any to contribute…but also out of a fear of being wrong or seeming incompetent. Sometimes, even those who ask questions can be berated, and I didn’t want to be berated, so I wouldn’t ask questions either. I don’t care so much any more, though. I word vomit all over the place.

    I think the need for perfection is a theme found in my own personal narrative. The Buddhist ideas of “no self”, mindfulness, and, most importantly, self compassion have helped me to realize that I am not perfect, and that I deserve the same kindnesses I afford others. I also think it’s appropriate to remember that these sorts of personal issues can be reflected in others’ group behaviors as well. While dealing with personal demons isn’t an excuse for “bad” behavior, it’s a good thing to remember when considering how (and if) to respond to someone else (IMO, at least).

    That being said, it is a healthy balance between discipline and healthy self-awareness (and critiquing) & mindful self-acceptance. Because of this balance, I tend to see Ma’at as both an end state AND a process…a process whereby we are content with our current selves, but also striving to improve. I also try to eschew concepts like “good” or “bad” in relation to people, myself, or human nature. Nothing is “good” or “bad” until you place a referent alongside it. Context is pretty important.

    I don’t worry about posting on forums or posts now. When it comes to my behavior in larger society, I tend to think about how my actions will affect my own well-being and others’ well-being (including the environment, if applicable). Sometimes, Ma’at means making a “selfish” decision. Usually, however, Ma’at means making the decision that has the best outcomes for everyone. When I make a mistake, I do my best to make it right (if that’s possible), learn from it, and then try my best to move on. Easier said than done, though.

    I try my best not to be critical of others. This is much easier online than in real life. I do think it could be cool if there were a tip-sheet on how to provide constructive feedback to new pagans. I think the reason many people come off as critical is because providing constructive criticism or even just usable advice isn’t something everyone knows.

    Given the many “grey areas” of Ma’at in our modern world, I always thought there would be more discussion of different scenarios in Kemetic circles or the guiding principles of Ma’at. Sort of like an anonymous forum where people sought guidance from the larger community. I haven’t seen much of this, but it does make sense given how independent (and different) practitioners are from each other.

    *end word vomit*

    • cardsandfeather

      June 1, 2016 at 4:22 pm

      To clarify the last paragraph: people discussing which actions would be most ethical given a certain scenario. Sorry, hit enter too soon!

    • DevoTTR

      June 1, 2016 at 6:03 pm

      I also tend to view ma’at as a process and a sort of end state, though the end state only stays as such provided certain processes are kept up, etc. In many ways, ma’at is almost never static, which is a bit ironic when you consider that a lot of people consider AE culture/society to be static because it supposedly never changed.

      I also try to not use the “good” or “bad” dichotomy. Almost nothing falls easily into one category or the other all the time, and context is king. I have, ironically, become less okay with posting on forums and in groups now. I’ve been lambasted by enough people that I’m finding that I’m reverting back to not bothering depending on who is around and reading what I Write. It’s very sad, imo, but there are just some people that I really can’t handle being around anymore due to how they treat me. I guess it just is what it is (though that’s part of what sparked this post, so I guess it still serves a purpose).

      I have it on my list of things to write about for the proper critiquing stuff. I think it will be useful to a degree, but I think that there is still always the possibility of upsetting someone in the process of critique, so it may be limited in its uses. Also doesn’t help that some people dn’t feel that they should have to soften how they say things, so to a degree, I think this will always be a bit of an issue.

      For the grey areas, I actually want to start addressing some of that this summer. I have it on the docket to write about ma’at and social justice, and tying it into the current society that a lot of us currently live in, and how a lot of our culture technically goes against ma’at. I also plan to create a sort of “quick reference sheet” about what ma’at is and may not be based off of what I’ve read in Karenga’s book. But I gotta have enough spoons to do that, so who knows when I’ll actually get it done >.> but hopefully before fall. Hopefully. I’ve personally wanted to discuss ethics and morality within a Kemetic frame, but it can be challenging for a couple of reasons. One being that not everyone has access to books about ma’at (and there aren’t many books to pick from, either). The other being that not everyone is particularly educated on certain social issues which, imo, /do/ play a role in ma’at. And then you’ve got people who straight up don’t want to consider other points of view. And so that can make it challenging, too. I think it’s very telling about what someone prioritizes out of ma’at when you look at what people pull as excerpts from Karenga’s book. And so finding a way to incorporate all of the aspects that people value into something that is cohesive and useful is going to be… hard. BEcause it will require people to change, and you know how people and change can get XDDD

      But I like the idea in theory, at least. I think if it was the right group of people, it could be useful and fun. Add in the wrong people, and… well. 😛

      I trade you word vomit for word vomit 😛

      • cardsandfeather

        June 3, 2016 at 8:49 am

        With respect to others not wanting to “soften the blow”: agreed. I have personally surmised that this comes down to a difference in values. That’s ok, but when one person values being “correct” at all costs, while another values being “kind” at all costs, and yet another values “honesty tempered with compassion”, those three people will have fundamentally different ways of communicating, and they will be very reluctant to change unless they see how a different form of communication fulfills their values. I also feel like past a certain point, it is for naught. But I do think your efforts are valiant and will be worth the time. A while back, I posted something on (research-based) ways of active listening. I don’t have a very wide base of readers, but my hope was something similar…to improve communication in people’s “real” lives and online lives. I just sort of threw it out there (time is tight). Let me know if I can do anything to help! I might have some articles on providing feedback somewhere that could be applicable.

        With respect grey areas and Karenga: I look forward to that as well. I have read about a fourth of Karenga, and I do feel that it often needs to be modernized in some ways (though not in all). I would enjoy talking about the points he brings up and discussing if/how those ideas of Ma’at are still applicable/need/should be modified for the world we live in/should be accepted as-is. I’m also interested to see how people’s pre-Kemetic ethical systems (i.e. the ideas they had before they began learning and practicing Kemeticism and/or paganism) influence their current Kemetic/Ma’atian ethical system (i.e. their system of ethics now that they identify as Kemetic). I know that while the new things I read influence how I conceive of Ma’at, I came into Kemeticism because I sort of already had an idea of Ma’at, I just didn’t have a matching term (and Kemeticism gave it to me).

        With respect to being “up to speed” on social issues: I would agree. Even scholars and experts tend to disagree, and they study it as a lifetime commitment. Those of us with less resources and/or time certainly have large shoes to fill if we are going to talk about it in relation to our own ethics. This doesn’t make it impossible, and I think the sheet you write about providing feedback and any info you give on different points of view and how to listen nonjudgmentally before thinking critically about new ideas might help.

        You have some lofty goals on your plate, but I’ve seen your output and I think you can do it! Let me know if I can help. I don’t have very many spoons to spare, but I can try to loan you one from time to time. As an aside, it sucks that you have been treated poorly, and but I’m glad it didn’t stop you from writing this post!

      • DevoTTR

        June 7, 2016 at 10:48 am

        Yes, that’s a good point about the communication types/methods. It’s probably partially why there is some disconnect between people in the community. I personally don’t really understand why some people value being right over being decent to someone, but I get that not everyone is me, too 😛

        I would be interested to see your piece on the active listening. I can probably add it to the resources page, and possibly link to it (or any other resources you’ve got) on any future posts I make about communication. That way it can get a signal boost, and hopefully it can slowly start to infiltrate and change how others communicate, or approach communication within the community :>

        I would like to hash out Karenga with people, honestly. I think that his views are definitely good, but I think that they’re… unrealistic? in some ways. Or at least, they’re too “pie in the sky” and not necessarily accurate with what was likely being done in the day to day. It’s kind of like looking at Christianity, and saying that no one should ever have defied the 10 Commandments, and yet you know that plenty of people have. It doesn’t make them bad, per se, but saying that a whole group of people should be able to go to their afterlife without ever defying a whole stack of rules is unrealistic, imo. Plus, I’ve got some thinky thoughts about getting into the Duat, the role that the 42 Neg Confessions play, etc. Which is currently a mix of UPG and reading. So for me, I think it’s a good resource, but it still has some problem areas. So I’d love to be able to talk about that with others who won’t get mad at me for having different ideas than what Karenga puts forward.

        I like the idea of pre-Kemetic ethics vs. post-Kemetic ethics. I may add that to the KRT list for discussion. Like you, most of my ethics mirrored ma’at before I came to Kemeticism, but I wasn’t as ma’atian as I needed to be. Set has pushed me harder to be more in line with what ma’at states. So while my ethics didn’t change drastically, they still have changed in some capacity.

        haha yes, lofty is probably a good way to put it. Set runs a tight ship, I guess you could say XDDD And thank you for your offer to help :> responding and giving me ideas like this is plenty for me right now. I do appreciate it :3

      • cardsandfeather

        June 7, 2016 at 8:49 pm

        Glad I could help! I look forward to the fruits of all that labor 😀

        Here is the post I wrote a while back. I’ll try my best to find/send you anything applicable with respect to feedback in the next week or so.

  2. helmsinepu

    June 1, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    Examples about how ma’at might be applied in different hypothetical situations would be extremely helpful. I suspect we need to do a lot more discussion to get to the point where we might be able to show how it would differ from more common moral systems.

    • DevoTTR

      June 1, 2016 at 6:05 pm

      I think it would be helpful, but that it would have to be highly contextual. I do plan on writing more about ma’at and how it applies to our society, politics and social issues, etc. in a hope that it might spark people to reconsider some of their views on things. But I think a lot of the people who need to read it the most will either dismiss it outright because *I* wrote it, or will not want bother to read it because it’s uncomfortable to be confronted with a need to change.

      I also plan on making a quick reference sheet regarding what ma’at is and isn’t based off of what I find in Karenga’s book. I just gotta find the time to write/make both.

      As for the discussion stuff, I think it would be good to have discussions on all of this. I would love it, in fact. BUt I no longer feel comfortable in most of the spaces where such a discussion could happen. I think it would have to happen with the right people in order for it to be constructive and not a brow beating exercise. So, maybe one day, if we could wrangle up the right group of people who could get along well enough to discuss such topics without getting too worked up about them.

  3. cardsandfeather

    June 3, 2016 at 8:52 am

    I do think the times in our community are ripe for this discussion. Another Kemetic group I follow is currently talking about the values that group has as Kemetics. The discussion is specific to that group (it isn’t KO, its another, independent, online group), so I think the discussion you propose (which seems to be aimed at the larger Kemetic community) will be very insightful.


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