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February 18th 2014 print

Peter Smith

Perfect In My Imperfection

Perhaps we really should lament our flaws and take steps to remedy them, as those self-help gurus urge. Then again, isn't it far more honest, not to mention therapeutic, to recognise one's human frailties and embrace them?

cat lionI once attended a session at one of those organisations which hold out the offer of making you a better, more fulfilled, more successful person. There was never any prospect of me taking up their offer. I was and am too set in my ways. I have gradually recognised and learnt to live with my imperfections and insecurities — unless, of course, some of them fall under ‘unknown unknowns’, as Donald Rumsfeld so well put it.

I am content with them, or at least resigned to them, as part of the human condition and feel that it is too late to change. And I am impatient with those who say it is never too late to change. What rubbish! Tell it to nonagenarians in nursing homes; to old lags serving their tenth incarceration; to aging cardinals yearning to be Pope; to smokers like my older sister who has smoked consistently into elderly age without any harm that she can spot; to committed alcoholics who’ve already given up twenty-three times; to people working all their waking hours at repetitive and arduous manual jobs struggling to support their families and young children; to people who are content with their miserable lot however much others would like them to change. In any event change what and into what?

This brings me to my point which is that people who proclaim that they are now successful and fulfilled, as numbers testified at the gee-up session I attended, are complete irritants to the rest of us. Who wants to hear people spout off about how successful and fulfilled they have become? I don’t, for one, and I suspect I am not alone. It makes me feel inadequate. Or it would if for a moment I believed that they had escaped the human condition.

In my view we owe it to our fellows not to go about miserable and dependent; to put on a brave and happy face at least most of the time but, equally, to leave them under no delusion about the existence and pathology of our own anxieties and insecurities. Life’s a lot like being lost in the jungle. It makes the jungle no less threatening but it is tremendously consoling to be one among numbers lost rather than be all alone.

I think we should rejoice in our inadequacies in a healthy and smiley-faced kind of way. We make other people feel better about themselves and that can’t be bad.

Peter Smith

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics