Monday, May 5, 2008

Perfection

In a discussion about controlling emotions, the topic of gedolim came up. The issue was precisely, I felt that it was unnatural to be so in control of your emotions that you could turn them on and off as necessary. Isn't the natural reaction of raw emotion the truest one's emotions could ever be? The more you control them, the more affected they are, right? But then it was explained to me - no. If you truly understand the emotion, you'll be able to assume it without it being affected at all but rather having it be that emotion in its truest form, as if you naturally experienced it. But still, intellectually knowing that a certain emotion is supposed to be felt at a certain time and then putting yourself in the mindset to have that emotion, even if you understand it - isn't that still false? Because that emotion is not your natural instinct! Except I know that you can make the argument, "but if you are on such a level that you truly understand your emotions, it will be natural instinct." I recognize this argument, but I am having trouble internalizing it. Something about it still feels unnatural.

Then someone commented that there are gedolim who have practiced in this manner with their emotions. So I responded, "But just because a gadol can do it doesn't mean I can." This comment was met with, "Don't put gedolim on such a pedestal that you feel you can never reach their level. Who says you can't?"

And then it struck me. It struck me so forcefully that I actually blurted it out: "But what if I don't want to?"

What? Not want to be on the level of the gedolim? Not want to go beyond that level - not want to strive for perfection? I was asked, why would I not want to be the most perfect that I could be?

I thought about it and realized something odd. I enjoy being imperfect. I like my imperfections. They're what make me human. They're what give me the ability to form opinions and learn and grow and be faced with difficult choices and...and even be wrong. Can you imagine - I like being wrong? Not all the time, of course, but it's part of learning. I love learning. I love growing and maturing and recognizing new things about myself and the world every single day. I love the surprises that an imperfect existence brings. And the closer one gets to perfection, the less room there is for growth - isn't there?

But then I thought of something else. What if the real reason I like being imperfect is because I don't know anything different? What if my imperfections are the very things which are keeping me from striving for perfection? What if I'm simply comfortable with being imperfect and am therefore not particularly enticed by a world of utter perfection? Obviously, human beings can never achieve complete perfection, but even the level of gedolim is not something particularly appealing to me. I like that there are gedolim, of course, but I would never strive to be at their level.

This comes from the same reasoning behind why, as a little kid, I used to not want Mashiach to come. Oh, sure, part of me did, but most of me was happy with my life and didn't want to change it. Is all this just anxiety about change, even change for the better? Is it a self-destructive attitude? And how much should gedolim be revered, anyhow? Obviously they are gedolim for a reason, and even though there are others who can reach that potential, not everyone can. If everyone could be a leader, we'd have a community of all leaders and no followers. Wouldn't that just be anarchy?

I apologize if this post was a bit confusing. My thoughts can get that way sometimes.

7 comments:

G said...

And the closer one gets to perfection, the less room there is for growth - isn't there?

NO!
NO, NO, NO!

Where did you pick up this silliness about "perfection"?

Ezzie said...

What G said.

Josh M. said...

Growth is asymptotic. When I try to improve myself, it never crosses my mind that I might succeed so beyond my wildest dreams that I would no longer be able to grow.

Liz said...

Perfection is not a goal. It's not like getting in a car and driving to perfection (unless you're going through a certain purple tollbooth, in which case I make NO predictions whatsoever). And it is never a state that you are in, it is a state you are striving for. And it's not that the closer you are to perfection, the less you have to grow. It just gets harder, so there is less you want to do. But you seem to be under a certain misapprehension here that the perfect YOU is the same thing as the perfect someone else. Who said that the perfect you is the same thing as the perfect gadol? Just think about it.

On a different note, the whole long rationalist philosophical tradition has sort of drilled it into our heads that emotions are the opposite of rational thought. Whether or not that's true is up to the philosophers, while they dance on the heads of their pins. But what if emotions were just another type of thought? And, let's be honest, no one can control their emotions, not even the gedolim. They can control their EXPRESSIONS of their emotions and whether they choose to let others be aware of how the emotions are affecting them, but actually stopping the feeling is impossible.

So yes, sometimes it is better to allow your emotions to show and sometimes it is better to hide it and, yes, your emotions are purer if you know they are appropriate for the situation you are in, but the idea that you can choose NOT to feel is ludicrous.

Erachet said...

G and Ezzie - Where did you pick up this silliness about "perfection"?

In the conversation I was having with a few people, when I said I didn't want to be like the gedolim, I was asked why I would not want to strive for the most ultimate perfection I could attain?

But now that I think about it, I don't know if I believe in perfection for human beings on any level. There's fulfilling potential, but that's not the same thing. Is it?

Josh M. - When I try to improve myself, it never crosses my mind that I might succeed so beyond my wildest dreams that I would no longer be able to grow.

Hmmm, yes. I suppose that came off as rather obnoxious and pretentious sounding on my part. I didn't mean that I actually thought I could grow to that extent, but since it is so hard for the human mind to comprehend infinity, I was thinking of perfection in finite terms. As in, there is a line where you've become as perfect as you can be in this world and then you're done growing. But I suppose that can never be true, can it?

Liz - And, let's be honest, no one can control their emotions, not even the gedolim. They can control their EXPRESSIONS of their emotions and whether they choose to let others be aware of how the emotions are affecting them, but actually stopping the feeling is impossible.

This was my argument, but it was turned down. I said that it's possible to control how you behave, but not how you feel. But the argument against this was that if you understand emotions in their truest form, you will always be feeling the appropriate ones. I don't know.

Also, I like the Phantom Tollbooth reference. :D

Liz said...

But how are those mutually exclusive? I mean, the better you understand emotions, the purer your understand of them - I can deal with that. But HOW does a better understanding of your emotions give you the ability to suppress them? By definition, controlling the actual FEELING of your emotions is undermining them - taking your god-given response to a situation and saying it is incorrect.
::sulks::
I think I'm too much of a scientist to believe all this about overcoming emotions.

Josh M. said...

Maybe you're more goal-oriented than I am. :-) But I still think that it's an infinity paradox.