The Other I

November 25, 2009

The limitations of perfection

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion — theotheri @ 3:51 pm

If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.                                                                                                                  Albert Einstein

I’ve never actually worked the numbers, but I think most of my family have above average IQs.  Most of us are also well-organized, hard-working, industrious, and reliable.  On occasions even heroically so.

But by and large, I don’t think we’re very creative.  Take me, for example.  I am good at explaining difficult concepts.  Even on occasion something as difficult as relativity – once I got my own head around it.  I’m good enough at criticizing theories, comparing them, rejecting or provisionally accepting them.  But I could probably count the number of original thoughts I’ve had with the fingers of one hand and still have several fingers to spare.

Yesterday the reason for this suddenly seemed blindingly obvious.  We were raised as Roman Catholics.  Not only as Catholics, but as thinking Catholics.  Which means that we were immersed in the Platonic world view in which perfection exists in a supernatural world and toward which we should strive.

The problem with perfection, though, is that there isn’t any room for mistakes.  Getting the right answers, doing the right thing is perfect.  Saying something foolish or outlandish is to fall short.  So if one doesn’t know the right answer, it is better to be quiet rather than blurt out something stupid.

Or unexpected. Or creative.

For example, my little sister Mary once put forth the idea that we think with our stomachs.  Oh how we laughed.  I remembered that last month when I read that researchers have found clear changes that take place in the stomach when we concentrate.  But Mary, at the age of probably about five, was humiliated.

And that’s the problem.  Aiming to be perfect sets one on a very narrow path of established right answers.  If you are smart enough, you trip less often than most.  But you won’t risk being creative.  Not unless you are very courageous, willing to be laughed at, or simply have such a kooky brain that these outrageous ideas just keep coming whatever the social cost.

Brainstorming is often the first step toward coming up with a creative idea.  Saying anything that comes to mind, not criticizing it but seeing where else it can take you.  We didn’t brainstorm in my family.  We worked at getting the right answer.

As  I move toward completing my 7th decade, I am reaching the conclusion that right answers have a lot to answer for.

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