You’ve heard the word: Perfect. You’ll hear people saying it everywhere as you go through your day. Trust me. Everyone is saying the word. And quite frankly, it scares me.
I thought it was just a coincidence at first. Someone at a local store said it—then someone else. A little while after that, I asked a coworker if I had done something correctly, and she said yes, “Perfect.” Then in the next breath she said, “But you forgot to do this other part.”
It struck me at that moment as I replied to her, “Then, it was NOT perfect.” And it wasn’t.
I hear my kids say the word. I started to hear their friends say it. Still, I was in my own “backyard,” so it was continuing to be a local event. The next day, I was talking to someone toll free, back East. I heard THE WORD. “Perfect,” he said. And I knew the infection had spread.
The reason I call it an infection is exactly what happened when I had clearly made a mistake at my work, but was told what I had done was perfect. It wasn’t perfect, darn it. As I look at grade inflation in our schools, and as I continue to see that our California students are becoming less and less able to read and do math, and as our tax dollars to repair this damage become higher and higher, I wonder if the casual use of this simple word has caused the problem or if rather, it is a reflection of the problem. We are expecting less because our common perception of perfection has been tainted.
Webster’s II defines the word as follows:
Perfect (pûr′fikt) adj. 1. Lacking nothing essential to the whole: complete of its nature or kind. 2. Being in a state of undiminished or highest excellence: flawless 3. Completely adept or talented in a certain field or area; 4. Completely reproducing or corresponding to a type or original: exact; 5. Thorough: complete; 6. Undiluted, pure; 7. Excellent and delightful in all respects.
Evidently, I’m a traditionalist from the looks of Webster’s continuation:
“usage: Traditionalists consider perfect to be an absolute term and therefore reject its use with modifiers of degree such as more or less. Nonetheless such usage is entirely acceptable, esp. when perfect is used in the sense of excellent in all respects.. . .as in A more perfect example could not be found.”
But I feel cheated. Am I missing something or do I see from the above that even Webster’s waffles on the concept?
The problem as I see it is that we think we see perfection every day. The media has made it possible for us to hear Pavarotti, see Tiger Woods, experience a clever movie like “Toy Story” or “Monsters, Inc.,” and make us believe that the end result, perfection, is within our reach, and easy to attain. The world experiences a shortened end-result kind of view, and it seems that especially kids of today have no concept of the hours, days, weeks, months and years of discipline and practice and work that it takes to approach, much less achieve, perfection. And the schools let kids believe that:
1) … they are becoming closer to perfect. (Why wouldn’t they think that? Their grades are higher. How is it, then, that many kids are “dumber?”)
2 ) … if the children don’t achieve perfection, they can’t enjoy an activity. At a very young age, some kids are kept from playing sports if they aren’t “good.” Equally, they are not allowed to lose. In fact, soccer games are not scored these days for little kids, because someone didn’t want their child to experience losing. WHAT? Maybe if you don’t lose, then you can pretend you’re perfect? (!)
Here’s an example. A friend of mine attended an art seminar. He’s just learning and is not an artist by profession, but he wanted to enjoy it as a thoroughly escapist experience from his normal work. He was flanked at his worktable by professional artists. His work was clearly rudimentary in comparison, but it didn’t matter. He was enjoying the experience and was not expecting perfection. No one there said his work was perfect. It wasn’t. He knew it; they knew it. But in the vernacular of the day, someone might have said. “Wow! That’s perfect!” Further, that he was there as a non-professional surprised everyone in the room. Can we enjoy things for what they are and not even strive for perfection?
There really is no such thing as perfection. Ask any artist, musician, athlete, writer, scientist or any professional you want. They will never have reached it if they are worth their salt. The artist could have always “painted those clouds to look just a little more real.” The musician, having not even missed a note, could have “played that passage just a tiny bit better.” A scratch golfer could always have “done a little better on that last hole.” So there is no perfection in the world. Therefore, the word perfect is only an idea, a concept, a goal, an objective, an ethereal, wonderful target to strive to reach, but not to be used lightly in a casual, offhand manner as it is today. This article, as an example, is not perfect, but it says what I want to say, and is worth writing for that reason. It’s not perfect, dammit, but I felt strongly that society’s current notion of perfection had to be explored.
Next time you hear yourself say “perfect”(and I know you’ll do it), stop yourself and ask if it really is or not. Obviously, it can’t be, as there is no perfection. Instead substitute “That’s fine,” or “That’s sufficient, okay, adequate, or passable.” Or try:
“That’ll do.” (as in “That’ll do, Pig” from the movie Babe)
“That makes sense.”
“That works for me.”
Any of these makes the other person feel that although it (whatever “it” is) might be great, there is room for just a little bit more. Because there always is.