As I sat down to write this blog I googled ‘perfect Christmas’. It threw up 32.1 million hits. I narrowed it down and just searched news, that gave me 16.7 million hits. All of the popular UK newspapers and magazines had recent articles about the perfect Christmas dinner, the perfect Christmas gift, perfect Christmas music, books, make up, outfits, whatever. I look at these articles and think, ‘Says who? Who decides what makes the perfect Christmas? Who made them the boss?’
This emphasis on perfection infuriates me because so many people try to be perfect in so many ways and in doing that pile enormous pressure onto themselves. Then, when they miss the impossibly high standards they have set for themselves, they feel inadequate, as though they have failed. They compare themselves to the fantasy ideal (see my previous blog) and the inner critic swings into action telling them they’re useless, pathetic and somehow unlovable.
For a long time, I have thought that perfection does not exist. How can it? Think about any assessment of an achievement from Strictly to a book review in the Sunday paper. Judges and critics seldom agree on the quality of the output. For every critic who thinks something is wonderful, there’ll be another who thinks it’s terrible. For everyone who thinks your Christmas *whatever* is perfect there will be another who thinks it’s pretty good, someone else who thinks it’s OK and a Grinch who thinks it was terrible. The truth is that judgement is entirely subjective and influenced by someone’s mood as much as anything else.
The word ‘perfect’ actually derives from the Latin word perfectus, meaning finished. The oldest definition of the word perfect goes back to Aristotle. In Delta of the Metaphysics, he identifies three concepts associated with ‘perfect’:
- that it is complete and contains all the requisite parts,
- that it is so good that nothing of the kind could be better (note the specificity of ‘nothing of the kind’ – if something is unique, like a Christmas dinner you have cooked in your own special way, it is, according to Aristotle, perfect),
- that it has achieved its purpose.
Just let that sink in for a minute. Perfect doesn’t mean 100% correct, or ideal, it means the job is done. If the dinner is tasty and there’s plenty of it, if the gifts are fine and your guests enjoy themselves, isn’t that pretty good going? So, this Christmas do yourself a favour. Relax, think of the word perfect as meaning ‘finished’ and aim for good enough all round.