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THE VOICE WITHIN

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  14 May 2017 12:00 AM GMT

Dealing primarily with the human condition and issues of death, bereavement and forgiveness, psychiatrist and author Late Dr Gordon Stuart Livingston wrote several popular books. Written in 2004, his work ‘Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart’ was translated into over 22 languages. One of his essays in this book titled ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good’ illustrates the common sense and practical approach with which he used to extract bedrock truths to enlighten readers:
“Most of us devote great amounts of time and energy to efforts to assert control over what happens to us in our uncertain progress through life. We are taught to pursue an elusive form of security, primarily through the acquisition of material goods and the means to obtain them. There is a kind of track that we are put on early in life with the implicit suggestion that, if we “succeed,” we will be happy and secure.
The primary means to this end is education. The structured pursuit of schooling provides a systematic classification of social standing and potential for success, as well as a set of intermediate goals that satisfy our need to reassure ourselves of progress. Each graduation carries with it the promise of enhanced status and economic well-being.
Filly, it is hoped, we will have amassed a set of specialized skills that people will pay for and we can accumulate those things that are necessary for full membership in a society that guarantees to its citizens the pursuit of happiness.
We are also taught that it is important to form intimate relationships that satisfy important needs — access to sex, the establishment of a stable economic unit, the ability to parent — and to achieve other objectives involving self-regard and emotiol security. The directions we are given by our elders tend to focus on economic success. We are left on our own to discover how to relate to others, particularly those of the opposite sex whose needs and desires, while theoretically complementary to our own, remain frustratingly obscure.
A problem emerges with the concept that in order to control our own lives we must exert control over the lives of others. We are then engaged in a zero-sum game in which we get what we want only at the expense of someone else. We live in a competitive society. We are forever dividing the world up into winners and losers: Republicans versus Democrats, good versus evil, our team versus their team. Our capitalist system is founded on competition; our legal system thrives on conflict and the pursuit of self-interest. Is it any wonder then that we often see the world through a win/lose, two-altertive lens? Such a view is, of course, disastrous for the delicate process of achieving intimacy with another human being.
Control is a popular illusion closely related to the pursuit of perfection. In our dreams we could bend the world and the people in it to our will. Gone would be the need to negotiate differences, to endure the uncertainty of failure and rejection. Though we come to understand that such a world is impossible, sometimes we go to great lengths to achieve whatever control we can over those around us through the exercise of power or manipulation.
We all know people who are perfectionistic. They tend to be demanding of themselves and those around them and to manifest an obsessive orderliness that is, in the end, alieting. They do not trust feelings and prefer to occupy themselves with things they can count.
In defense of perfectionism, it might be said that obsessive people make the world function for the rest of us. Who, after all, wants to be operated on by a relaxed surgeon, or fly on an airplane maintained by mechanics satisfied when their work is “good enough?” If we excel at anything, it is because we are prepared to sweat the details (wherein resides either God or the devil, depending on your orientation).
The problem with perfectionists and their preoccupation with control is that the qualities that make them effective in their work can render them insufferable in their persol lives. I treat a lot of engineers and accountants and computer programmers. To be less controlling in their jobs would render them ineffective. The best one can hope for is to introduce them to the paradox of perfection: in some settings, notably in our intimate relationships, we gain control only by relinquishing it.”
—the harbinger

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