It’s a straight nail that gets hammered in. Being puritanical, virtuous and too straight in life must be something for us to aspire towards. However, if such behaviour becomes a sanctimonious display to show-off and gain admiration of others, or is turned into an opportunity for one-upmanship, then it becomes detrimental to one’s personal growth. We need to find a middle ground.
We must lead virtuous lives without becoming obsessed with finding faults in others or ourselves. Being tolerant of our own failings, and those of other people, makes us happier.
People who are law-abiding and respect the norms are usually decent and easy to deal with. However, sometimes rules and laws become an obsession with some people. They usually end up taking a moral high ground. Often, such self-righteous persons are bitter and unhappy. They become grumpy and bad-tempered, and end up criticising even the good that is occurring around them, looking at it with unfounded suspicion.
Such persons tend to look with disdain upon anyone who breaks the rules that they themselves follow sincerely. For example, they might get overly agitated seeing someone jump a red light, or break the queue- when they themselves are sticklers for following the law of the land.
In Sanskrit, purna, often translated as completeness or wholeness, is understood as absolute perfection. ‘Purnamadah purnamidam purnat purnamudachyate/ Purnasya purnamadaya purnamevavashisyate’ is a beautiful ‘fullness’ mantra that indicates that things are perfect as they are- ‘That is perfect. This is perfect. From the perfect arises the perfect. When the perfect is taken from the perfect, still the perfect remains.’
At a Zen monastery, a young monk was informed that important guests were expected. It was autumn and the ground was strewn with dry leaves. He rapidly raked them up to make the place spotlessly clean. All this while, the head monk watched him. When the young man finished he sighed happily. ‘Doesn’t it look nice now?’ he said, turning to the monk.
‘Absolutely,’ the older monk said, ‘but something does not seem quite right. Here, let me fix it for you.’ The old monk shuffled up slowly to a tree in the centre of the garden, gripped its trunk and shook it hard. Leaves began to scatter everywhere to the shock of the young man. ‘There… now, that’s much better!’ grinned the wise old master as he sauntered off.
Our life must be like the garden. Perfect in its imperfections. We must not become overly obsessed with being sincere and diligent. We need to give ourselves permission to mess up once in a while. Being too righteous and rule-obsessed makes us difficult to live with. We need to learn to relax and let things be. There are law enforcement agencies to take care of rule-breakers. Unnecessarily making a fuss over trivial issues makes us unhappy and often pretty unsociable.
A psychological study was conducted by the University of Nebraska where it was found that creative people who were overly self-critical (perfectionists) were less likely to indulge in creative tasks than those who weren’t. These people had a fear of failure, remained dissatisfied even with jobs well done, and tended to procrastinate a lot.
The Greeks were obsessed with the mathematically perfect body. But, ironically, even Pygmalion, the mythical sculptor could only carve the perfect woman out of stone. There is nothing without flaws. ‘Evolution does not create perfection,’ says Alan Mann, a physical anthropologist at Princeton University.
William Shakespeare wrote in King Lear, ‘Striving to be better, oft we mar what’s well’. Be easy on yourself and others. Break a few rules you’ve imposed upon yourself. Learn to enjoy being a bit crooked at times as long as you don’t harm anyone else!
Deepam Chatterjee is the author of The Millennial Yogi. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org