Philosopher Café:Discovering Perfection in Defects

Reporter/Ye Shuying, Zheng XinliHow many people struggle to work and live day by day in order to achieve the expectations of others or to fulfill their personal visions of perfection? How much effort and energy do we spend in hiding our flaws and imperfections simply because we feel embarrassed?

The topic of the talk in the Philosopher’s Cafe on 6/18 was “Perfection and defects.” Thirty-nine friends gathered together on the 10th floor of the Degui Academy to enjoy a great philosophical and spiritual feast and to bring inspiration to their lives. Before we began our discussion, Professor Ku chose for us a story from the book "Can You Eat Your Cat?" to practice introspection on this ethical issue. The teacher reminded us not to rely on habitual reflex when responding to this question. This story can be a start for us to further scrutinize our habitual patterns and value judgments, and to try to break our old habits so as to make decisions.

The teacher also related the topic to other philosophical issues in order to lead participants to ponder about the question "Is there such a thing in the world that is absolutely perfect? What is beauty? Is perfection synonym for beauty or can defects be beautiful too?" Before getting into the topic, the teacher invited us to challenge ourselves and to open ourselves to various possibilities.

In the course of this activity, the teacher kept proposing issues that are relevant to today's topic that guided us to face, inspect and think about the following questions. First of all, "Does any added element make any thing perfect? Or does something become perfect with fewer elements? Does any added element make it defective? Or does it become defective with the deletion of some elements?"  Participants responded with their different ideas: one interpreted it with the analogy of a picture. In general, western oil paintings are considered beautiful when the entire canvas is filled, whereas traditional Chinese paintings are considered beautiful when a certain amount of void is present at the appropriate spots. Beauty is a subjective perception and people define beauty differently in different times and in different spaces, and with different cultural backgrounds.

Secondly, does the person or the thing that you care about most need to be perfect?  The majority of the participants pursue perfection in their work. Someone shared his experience that in the process of pursuing perfection in work, he found the result is death caused by overwork in the end. Someone asserted that perfection does not lie in the accomplishment of the goal; instead it is developed in the process of the course.  Defects keep us pursuing something better and the process of removing defects one by one is itself a form of perfection. Other issues were raised such as: "Is it a necessity or a desire to pursue perfection? Are perfection and defects relative or absolute? Perfection and defects often take turns appearing in this impermanent world. . The important question is, whether there exists an absolute perfection or defect?"

One participant shared that being single brings her the greatest solitude, but at the same time, the largest freedom to fly freely in the sky. We perceive things differently when we wear pink glasses or grey glasses. The teacher took "The Missing Piece" written by Shel Silverstein as an example to remind us to contemplate on the following question: Can the “perfection” we seek become an obstacle or a defect? The protagonist of the story is a circle with a part missing who keeps looking for the missing part. After she found the part that completed her, she realized that she couldn't stop at any time to enjoy the scenery as she did before. It seemed that she reached the perfection only to find herself losing much more in the end.

The teacher's questions guided us to ponder on how we identify and insist on perfection in our daily lives. They also made us reflect on the roles which perfection and defects play in our lives. Perhaps imperfection was also a different kind of perfection which brings us joy and helps us shun away from some crises.

In the end, the teacher asked us more questions: "Is perfection reachable? Is there a way to achieve perfection? Do we achieve it through changing themselves or others? Or can we reach perfection by adjusting our perception?" It helps us to reconsider things in our lives if we can renew our understanding and perception of “being perfect” and “being defective” with the above questions.

As we approached the end of this dialogue, the teacher invited those participants who hadn’t had the opportunity to voice their opinions to talk briefly in response to the topic. One participant employed two advertisements to interpret today's topic. The first one is the slogan of a car dealership “The way Lexus pursues perfection is nearly over-critical. The second one goes “Stop grading me!”. He thought it is normal that there are defects in life. As long as one changes one’s views, one can tolerate and accept one’s defects in life. We often forget to be flexible. As a result, we crash into walls again and again in our lives. We should reflect on ourselves periodically whether we treat ourselves too harshly or not. Bear in mind that sometimes even these reflections are too harsh. The pursuit of perfection is a process of reducing mistakes after accepting them first.

Another participant tried to interpret perfection and defects in a more mature and well-rounded perspective. Everyone appreciates merits; however, it requires a great wisdom to appreciate shortcomings too. We experienced imperfection during the course of learning. The fact that we learned to differentiate between perfection and defects through other people’s life stories leads to a greater possibility of creating beautiful elements in the world.

These heart-warming words are the beautiful pearl that marks a perfect ending for this activity today.