My across the street neighbor spent the entire Thursday afternoon washing and detailing his pickup truck. As an example of his efforts, he probably spent half an hour polishing each wheel. When he was finished with the vehicle, the truck looked better than brand-new. I was gobsmacked that it looked so nice.
As Chuck put away his bucket, wax, and polishing cloths, a pigeon took a dump on the hood of the vehicle. Chuck again filled his bucket with water and washed the filth off the truck and spent another half-an-hour repolishing the hood. There was one other concern I had regarding his clean pickup. The weather forecast included a 60-percent chance of rain plus a good possibility of severe thunderstorms the next day. Chuck works out of town and the pickup is his only vehicle. He would have to drive on the streets and highway in the rain to get to work.
As far as I know, Chuck is not a perfectionist, but he does tend to lean that way regarding his vehicles. I can relate, because I used to be the same way when I was younger.
In most instances, it is wise not to obsess about absolute perfection. Exceptions to this rule of thumb include such fields as medicine and rocket science. Otherwise to go for perfection in every single detail of life will ironically result in an incomplete life.
Life and work are processes of incompleteness. For instance, the journalist engages in the tasks of gathering tidbits of information and evidence in order to compose stories to inform the public. Because evidence gathering is a time consuming process, discovering it might take several days, weeks, or in some cases, years. Yet the public expects some sort of explanation of events. The initial reports give a general outline of the incident. Subsequent reports include more information as the police or other spokespeople release it.
If the incident is a crime, then further updates may include what the suspect is charged with, trial dates, and so forth. If the suspect is found guilty, there is the possibility of appeals to higher courts. Even allowing for every appeal, the wrap-up story is incomplete because most of the general public is unconcerned about knowing every aspect, in painstaking detail. Most people only want to know if the suspect was convicted, how the appeals process ended, and how long the suspect will spend in prison. If the crime was extremely serious, there will be documentaries t0 explore various aspects and quirks of the crime. Case in point: the John F. Kennedy assassination has not been resolved to the most skeptical observers. It is fair to say that the incident will never be resolved to every single person’s complete satisfaction.
Wise ancient philosophers have pondered the topic of incompleteness. Some of them have concluded that it is good to leave a slight, lingering sense of incompleteness in our day to day living. They reasoned that the kings and gods will then be less likely to resent us. They believed that being obsessed with absolute perfection in achievement, leaves the mind unsettled and deranged. To some extent, the sages were correct. If we will not act unless there is absolutely zero risk and a perfectly complete outcome is assured, we will live a dull, predictable lifestyle. The result will probably be an incomplete life.
In the end, we know that our lives will end with much of what we wanted to accomplish and learn being unfinished. While we aim for absolute perfection and completeness, we also know that such states are ultimately unattainable. Such is the process of living in the Universe. Oftentimes “good enough” is actually OK.
By the way, yesterday afternoon, Chuck returned home from his job. His pickup truck was coated with a thin layer of road film and his carefully polished wheels were brown and dull again. The most detail oriented cleaning job will always be temporary and incomplete regardless of my neighbor’s best efforts.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes narrator, journalist, and Pulitzer Prize winning satirical writer, Russell Baker. “An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious–just dead wrong.”