Is the perfect the enemy of the good? Is it better, and more effective, to live a good life, rather than constantly striving for perfection, which always remains elusive? In any event, what do I mean by “live a good life”?
I have been thinking about these questions ever since my conversation yesterday with my friend Frank Hufnagel. He told me that there has been a long drought in Bavaria, where he lives. He thinks that this may have been one of the reasons for the significant increase in support for the Green Party at the recent elections. People are making the connection between the drought and climate change and have voted accordingly.
We then talked about what we, as individuals, can do about the big problems of our time, such as climate change, the out of control human population, polarisation of societies and politics…it’s a depressingly long list. Frank is active in the Green Party, and it is easy to understand why, and I hope the Greens go from strength to strength, in Germany and elsewhere (I wonder whether there is a Green Party in Saudi Arabia!)
I told Frank that my politically active days are behind me – although I do take more than a passing interest in the independence movements in Scotland (where I am from) and Catalunya (where I live). And although I did not say it explicitly to Frank, I no longer strive for perfection. I used to, and I found it exhausting and counterproductive. I think I stopped when I lived in Santa Fe in the USA 16 years ago. It had more than its fair share of “strivers for perfection”. We used to enjoy going to the Cloud Cliff Café, and we really enjoyed the strivers loudly ordering “organic Tibetan soy chai” – loudly, so that everyone would know that they were more advanced than us on the road to perfection. As you might imagine, I also enjoyed attracting glances of disapproval when I loudly ordered “a strong coffee”.
Yes, I used to be a striver. But these days I am much more mellow, softer, and that has made all the difference! Life is simpler, easier, happier, more natural and, importantly, more effective. I seem to have more influence now that I have renounced perfection. So, next time Frank and talk, I will raise the question of what it is like to live as a 21st Century Taoist, and why this might be important. It’s a fantasy, I know, but if we were all Taoists, all seven and a half billion of us, there would be no “big problems” – of this I am certain. And this is because, as Taoists, we would be living in harmony with each other, with ourselves, and with the rest of Nature. I do not claim that it would be perfect, but I would not want it to be!