We love heroes, both historical and fictional. They give us an opportunity to strive for something greater and to affect the world in a positive way. From an early age, we observe others and latch onto certain goals, which shape our directions in life as we grow older. We strive for perfection, desiring achievement beyond what we currently have. There are two issues with this desire though. The first is that we expect it alone to grant us happiness and fulfillment. The second is that we have a fundamental misunderstanding of perfection itself.
In all of human history, only one individual has ever been argued (Specifically, by Christians) to be perfect. That individual is Jesus Christ. Beyond Christ, all humans have faults. We often believe that their accomplishments make up for those faults and help to balance the scales, and we work this assumption into our own lives. We believe that if we have been terminated from a job or failed at a musical audition, then we must attain that much more respect and value in our next career, or prove ourselves in another artistic genre.
Even individuals that are successful find that there are holes in their expectations of perfection. Tom, a top-tier CEO, has achieved success in his career, leading to great wealth. Even with his success, he feels incomplete… as though there is something just beyond the next corner. After he is asked how he reached his current position, he notes that he desired a car when he was a teenager, so he applied for an entry-level position and earned money for the car. Once he had the car, he wanted a significant other and friends to enjoy it with. Once he had a beautiful wife, he longed for a house of his own and after that, he desired a new patio, and so on and so on. He worked his way up to a new level of wealth at every step, always longing for more.
Even individuals that have earned billions of dollars and thousands of friends have shared after their success that they feel ‘empty’ and as though their work was ‘pointless’. When asked what they want, many of them aren’t even sure, and the rest believe that if they could simply achieve one step higher on the richest man or woman list, then maybe they could finally earn true happiness. Markus Persson, the creator of Minecraft (known as ‘Notch’ by most), explained: “The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance.” Persson made this comment after selling his company for $2.5 billion at a young age. This all begs the question: If even these accomplishments (our expectations of perfection) cannot grant us solitude, then why did we believe they would in the first place?
We desire perfection because of our assumption of what our heroes have gained. Especially at an early age, these champions appear to have everything they could ever want. As children, our first role models are often our parents, and for a significant amount of time, we believe that they know and understand everything about the world around us. Our heroes in film and television often receive their desires, if not throughout the story, then at least at the end. They have ‘earned’ it, we tell ourselves. Rarely though, does a story go so far as to explain whether the protagonist enjoyed his or her ‘happily ever after’. Along with this failure (assuming that the ends were worth the means), in popular culture, we remove the most significant aspects of many characters’ lives: their faults. The highest rated stories delve into these faults and how protagonists overcome them, but these narratives are few and far in between. We would rather have the issue wrapped up neatly at the end of the conflict rather than challenge our own assumptions.
We even view biblical figures in the same lens. One of the best examples is the film ‘The Ten Commandments’. Charlton Heston, who plays Moses, is seen as a great speaker and leader throughout the film. In reality, Moses was scared to death of what he was being asked to do and was so frightened of speaking in front of others that God himself finally gave up on him and asked his older brother Aaron to take the role of orator. In reality, Moses was a failure in many aspects of life, but in popular culture he has been raised to perfection in every facet of life.
The same is true of a multitude of other heroes. America’s founding fathers believed in slavery. This was not a biblical slavery, where one became an indentured servant for seven years and earned a wage, but was slavery based on race. Medal of Honor recipients have had failed marriages and questionable political beliefs. Political heroes like Lincoln and Churchill have lied to the masses and sent soldiers to their deaths while attempting to achieve political victory. We choose to remove these inadequacies from their lives, but in doing so, we convey that flawlessness is achievable and desirable.
What is the point then? Why should we even hope to achieve any sort of accomplishment if we cannot undo our past? Well, there is still joy to be had in success, but that joy must be shared. We also must understand that the joy we receive cannot cover the pain of a loss. The two are separate issues, and we do ourselves a disservice to believe that they are on the same scale. What kind of achievements are worthwhile then? Any achievement that makes a positive change to the environment and people around us, no matter how small or large, is valuable.
Our desires, at the deepest levels, must move their focuses from ourselves to others if we want to enjoy these achievements, otherwise we are simply striving for the next chore in a long list. Selfless desires bring the greatest joys to life, surprisingly enough, because we stop to ask what the world needs, rather than ourselves. Meaning comes from life-sharing relationships, and most of all, from the love that we present and receive from others. Accomplishments that are focused on others, and not titles and monies that we would receive, are what matter, because they are what build those relationships and allow love to penetrate our lives. The idea of perfection transforms when these are considered. A perfect life is no longer about a blemish-free path, but about transforming an imperfect experience into a perfect narrative.
Values, A Series: