Do the right thing and be slated?
We can’t prove we are decent, honourable and innocent people. Every day of our lives is a new test. All of us can be mis-read, misunderstood and mistaken. And sometimes are.
‘No good deed goes unpunished’ appears to be a well-worn saying. Our political leaders falter and in doing so, set the tone. Even religion encourages forgiveness for sin. And it expects sin, not sainthood.
Athletes in a sport racked by doping become guilty by association, in a dramatic trial by media. People can be unwittingly in the wrong place at the wrong time. Too-perfect beauty or sound must be from plastic surgery, photoshopped or auto-tuned, we tell ourselves. Employees working from home apparently can’t be trusted by some employers to be productive. Good people can be framed, or their identities stolen. DNA evidence can be planted. Company reputations appear only as good as their last action, not their decades of service, contribution and value generated.
Do we punish uncertainty, even when the right thing happens?
Financial auditors, medical test technicians, oil drillers, weather forecasters, medical imaging experts and structural surveyors can sample and pass opinion but not guarantee certainty. We settle for their professional opinion, only as the lessor of two evils. Insurance assessors can estimate probability, but not guarantee outcome. We pay the premium but resent the price. Juries can look for court evidence that is beyond reasonable doubt, but hate the process, rarely finding a perfect set of evidence, or witnesses (I know, I’ve been that juror). Human relationships survive on moral premise,transactional trade, love, blind faith and simmering trust in the meantime.
Added to the potent mix above, education is effective in training us to be critics and sceptics. But does it do enough to inspire all of us to be the best we can be? Shaping us to be critics and sceptics does make progress a bumpy ride for all those lining the journey.
Are people basically divided into two broad camps – the ‘fake it til you make it’ (the marketers & promoters) and the ‘keeping it real’ camp’?
‘Fake it til you make it’ is about projecting confidence, whether real or illusionary. It’s downside is arguably in making our social groups less cohesive and less real. ‘Fake it til you make it’ can be spectacularly successful – politicians, singers/rappers and A-list movie actors being examples of this. Ironically though, politicians campaign to solve real problems, rappers rap about their gritty own life struggle to success, whilst successful actors choose to star in movies that often have themes of real strength from overcoming adversity of some kind.
Some pioneering cultures have a phrase about ‘keeping it real’. Others talk about ‘keeping your feet firmly on the ground’ (unless you work for the weather service, the airlines, the navy, NASA or Virgin Galactic).The ‘keeping it real’ camp includes support groups, social workers, therapists, counsellors, teachers, coaches, trainers and assessors of all kinds. This camp arguably advocates that ‘struggling to succeed is simply walking the journey’ is what life is about and that being honest about this struggle helps us to build important bridges with fellow human beings. In the world of entertainment, reality shows are in theory about ‘keeping it real’, although programme directors inevitably choose hyping the truth over the reality, if if means improving the viewer ratings in a competitive industry.
What about in the field of design – which camp do designers fall into? Steve jobs said ‘Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’ In product design, great and successful designers don’t tolerate fake. They are obsessed with building amazing, perfection and excellence. In contrast, fine artists can excell at illusion in their art, folling the viewer’s eye into almost believing the two dimensional is actually the three dimensional. Or that the World shown within their art reveals a far more beautiful perspective on the World outside. Musical artists and actors generally want to create real. It’s the marketing staff of their companies that want auto-tune, edit and airbrush.
Whichever of the two camps a person falls into, perhaps real performance is still the key goal and ambition the driving force. Oscar Wilde famously said ‘all of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.’ Life arguably isn’t about ‘suffer in silence’, ‘know your place’ and ‘mustn’t grumble’. It is about ‘be the best that you can be’, ‘dare to dream’, ‘give yourself a break’, ‘learn from your mistakes’, ‘recognise the perfect parent does not exist’, ‘respect yourself’ and ‘strength through adversity.’
Lastly, somewhere along the line, as we switched from selling the products of our labour to selling the services of ourselves, the ‘fake it til you make it’ mantra started to dominate, in business, in our romantic lives (as singles) and increasingly, everywhere else. How do we jolt ourselves out of that mantra?
Can you be a perfectionist all your life, but never achieve perfection itself? Is it the case that everyone except the perfectionists realise this?
And if the perfectionists realised and accepted this, they would stop trying? It might mean a World with less obsessive people, but also a World with less good things getting done.
Is perfection subtractive – something you can achieve by removing all the bad things in your life, like a surgeon removing a cancerous tumour from someone’s body. While excellence is about adding good things?
You also hear the expression ‘a perfect storm’, implying all the ingredients coming together in unison to create mayhem. So I guess, perfect isn’t always linked to desirable.
What’s the difference between perfect, excellent and being a champion? Perfection and Excellence both seem to involve improvement. But is it better to have perfect intentions, excellent thoughts, or to act like a champion?
Maybe man-made means achieving excellence and being a champion (at best), but perfection, that’s way beyond us.
What do you think?