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On Being Human: letting go of perfection with compassion

We live in a world that is in love with perfection. Perfect hair, perfect smiles, perfect plates of food… a perfect selfie. In this search of perfection, we have become a very intolerant lot. We do not tolerate imperfections within us and within others. There is so much shame in being less than perfect. Technology encourages it as we can easily retake a picture or put filters and make that picture better. We can curate the perfect moment, without having experienced it. Gone are the days of a home knitted sweater, home stitched clothes or hand made utensils. These products reminded us that imperfection is part of life. Machine-made products around us are perfect. As we compete with machines, we must remember that it is not a level playing field. We are not machines and being imperfect is in the human DNA.

Perfection does not exist because in a world with infinite possibilities, something can always be done better. Thus, when we chase perfection, there is no end, and it is an unattainable goal. A goal that has led many to feel bad about themselves. Just when you have a “perfect” something, someone else has it better. This leads to many missing on the perfect but perhaps mundane moments surrounding them.

To do this post, I googled perfection and there are all these wonderful articles on the benefits of embracing our imperfections and I get in logically. Yet, the idea of making a mistake or being seen as “less than”, in anything that I value --such as being responsible, efficient, caring, generous -- fills me with shame. How can I embrace (or at least sit with) imperfection?

Mistakes are necessary for growth and thus if we stop making mistakes or tolerating mistakes, we stop growth. In a mistake-averse world, I wonder if we have stopped growing. Mistakes teach us because we learn something about ourselves, about others and about this world. However, many of us fear mistakes because it fills us with shame. And there are many out there who will “put us in our place”. Shame is paralysing. Shame makes us feel bad about who we are rather than what we did. The antidote for shame is compassion. This compassion is both for ourselves and others.

Dr Kristen Neff, leading expert on self-compassion, says this of compassion. There are three components according to Neff. First, you must notice the suffering. The second is to be moved by the suffering. Lastly, it is to realise that suffering, failure and imperfection is part of the shared human experience.

We are human and not Artificial Intelligence. We are imperfect and will make mistakes.

Thus, when you make a mistake or are less than perfect in your eyes, notice, what is happening within you, it could be feelings such as anxiety, shame, anger, disgust at oneself. Then, offer understanding and kindness to yourself rather than harsh judgement. Lastly, tell yourself, suffering, failure and imperfection is but a human experience.

From this compassionate space, make the changes you need to amend the mistake. It is ok to make a mistake, take ownership of it and make amends. And when we see this happening around us, that is, people taking responsibility for their mistake, apologising and making amends, we need to learn to encourage it because it is not easy.

I believe that as we learn to hold compassion for ourselves, we will hold ourselves more accountable and shame ourselves less. In this, is growth for ourselves. When we can be compassionate with ourselves, we can extend that same generosity to others. Instead of judging, “putting others down”, we can hold them accountable for their behaviour without shaming them. This will allow them to grow as well.

As Dr. Bréne Brown, well-known for her research on courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, states “We can only love others as much as we love ourselves”. To me, this holds true for compassion as well.

So, I encourage you to be kind to yourself when you make a mistake, it happens! Take a moment to recognise the human in you and breathe!

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