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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