An Eclectic Human
A newsletter about design, community, and being a human

1.04 Deeply flawed, but ultimately of value

This week’s topic was humane conversation. Here are some of the things you said:

Sam wrote (a couple weeks ago) about making communication more approachable to others:

When I’m around folks that don’t “read” me well, I find myself using softening language to help them feel comfortable voicing an opposing thought. I use phrases like “I think”, “My opinion has been”, and “I suppose” in my communication explicitly, even though I consider these to be present in everything I say. I also find it useful to explicitly elicit their opinion, even before I voice my own.

Matt wrote about how to care for intellectual and emotional health:

  1. Above all, validate feelings.
  2. Disagree easily, and express disagreement carefully. If not possible, refer to #1.

Downplaying emotions or thinking they’re stupid is the real problem in a lot of arguments. First accept them for what they really are, and then you can work through them, whether they’re someone else’s or your own. That’s for emotional well-being.

For intellectual well-being, you still want to keep a skeptical outlook. Put whatever you hear through a truth filter, and put whatever you say through an acceptability filter. If people can’t accept what you’re saying emotionally, they’ll be less likely to accept it intellectually.

Maria wrote about accepting faults in ourselves and others:

When I read [Walt’s response] about making one mistake everyday, it reminded me of a conversation we had in my Voice Over class the other day. We talked about how making mistakes in voice over was natural. Each mistake you make teaches you how to improve, and in the voice over business, it’s not the mistakes that are the problem, but the reaction we have to those mistakes.

We have this intense desire to hide our mistakes and imperfections behind a mask of cultural appropriateness to avoid the judgments of others. But if we all stopped hiding our mistakes, stopped overreacting to others’ mistakes and our own, wouldn’t everyone be better off? Knowing that everyone is broken as well, would we not be kinder to each other, more content with who we are and the progress we are making? Neal A. Maxwell says that we need to distinguish between dissatisfaction with oneself and disdain for self. Perhaps knowing that others have weaknesses and faults would allow us to recognize our own faults, instead of attempting to hide them in fear of others’ judgments. Would accepting our progress not then allow us to forgive our past selves, our past mistakes, and look forward with the knowledge that we can, in fact, improve? I like to believe it would.

This led us to the topic of perfection. Do perfect people make no mistakes? Some may argue “yes.” Walt mentioned that mistakes allow us to grow. If perfection entails making no mistakes, then perfection makes us stop growing and is therefore damnation. Should that be the case, then I never want to be perfect. I look back to who I was eight years ago, four years ago, two years ago, three months ago, even yesterday and see someone who is deeply flawed, but someone who is ultimately of value—someone who is ultimately trying to always be better and to some extent is successful in that pursuit.

• • •

For two and a half years, I had the privilege of singing in one of the top choirs at my university. Our director, whom we affectionately called Sister Hall, was Welsh, fierce, and delightful. She was an outstanding choral instructor, and we loved her for her sincerity, her passion, and her insistence on excellence.

“Know risk, know gain.” This was one of Sister Hall’s favorite phrases because it works two ways: denotatively, it identifies the price of improvement, but it also has a homophonic neighbor that warns of the cost of risk aversion: “no risk, no gain”. Being an excellent choral musician requires sacrifice, dedication, and risk-taking. But the rewards, whether personal fulfillment or external recognition, make the effort worthwhile.

Lately, I’ve been pondering whether I should be seeking for excellence in every area of my life, or if I can be satisfied with mediocrity in my less-important pursuits. My work demands a certain level of skill, and I’m happy to devote a lot of energy to becoming better at it. My family is also very important to me and deserves my best efforts. But I don’t think I can be excellent at those and also be a world-class cyclist or a sought-after pianist. Rather, I’m happy to be good enough at cycling and playing the piano that I get enjoyment out of them, even if it’s just for my own pleasure and I never become excellent in others’ eyes.

Perhaps excellence should primarily be a personal measuring device—I should be the best pianist I can given the time I’m willing to devote to it. Or perhaps my Excellence Bucket is only so large and I have to carefully dole out its contents to the various areas of life.

• • •

What do you think about excellence and mediocrity? Should we always strive for excellence or is there a balance to be struck?

—Steve

Later article
1.05 Danny and Reuven
Older article
1.03 The Steel Man