Forgetting Perfection

I wrote last month about how advocates need to get over what we don’t know, to jump into the fights where we, and what we know (partial though it is), are so needed.

I guess I’m on a “trust me, you’re good enough” kick, because one of the pieces of Soul of a Citizen that really spoke to me is this theme, that the only two things that differentiate those who are actively engaged in social change, from those who are not, is (1) how they see the world, as demanding their involvement and (2) how they see themselves, as integral, albeit small, parts of the solution.

In part, it relates to the concept of “good enough”, which comes from the parenting idea that caregivers should forget striving for perfection, because it really will make things worse, and should instead celebrate “good enough”, because that’s all kids really need to thrive, anyway.

And it’s also connected to the importance of understanding and accurately assessing activist leaders and social movements current and past, because unfairly and incorrectly viewing them as larger-than-life not only inappropriately reifies them, but, more importantly, it’s also a major deterrent to the activism of the rest of us, mere mortals though we are. (That’s a big part of the reason why I care what students today are and are not learning about our history, including the history of the fight for social justice.)

It’s not enough, then, to say, “we don’t all have to be (fill in the blank–Jane Addams, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day)”. The consolation we should instead be showering on each other goes more like, “who were they, anyway, but flawed human beings, just like us, who, nonetheless, did amazing things for justice, just like we can, too”. As an activist said in Soul of a Citizen, “it does us all a disservice when people who work for social change are presented as saints–so much more noble than the rest of us. We get a false sense that from the moment they were born they were called to act, never had doubts, were bathed in a circle of light” (p. 37). Shattering that myth reminds us that we stand just as good a chance as they did to change the world…maybe, given today’s technology and advances in human rights, even better.

And then, we start.

We start knowing that our skills are inadequate and our knowledge incomplete and, even, our commitment imperfect.

We stop trying to be martyrs, always focused on the cause, because we know that others are drawn to those struggles were people are having fun and living the kind of whole, full lives that they want for themselves, too.

We realize that standing up for our most sacred values isn’t about making ourselves into some, more noble person, but about becoming more fully human…more purely us.

We start treating ourselves a lot more like we treat our clients–as worthy, just as we are.

And, in so doing, we shed the last remaining excuse not to act.

And that’s…perfect.

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