You Shall Pursue

May 23, 2012

Wholeness, Perfection, and American Consumption

Filed under: Choosing Life — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 3:47 am

The six months leading up to my acceptance into rabbinical school were not easy for me. During a particularly difficult work situation, I broke down crying in my parents’ car on the way home from the train station, briefly considered quitting my job and moving home, then found myself a therapist instead. I was, during this time, plagued with anxiety that I was failing at everything: my job, my dating life, my quest toward rabbinical school, everything. And in the past year, I have not learned to “be healthy,” per se. Rather, I have learned that it is okay, normal, and natural to be flawed, and that I can still be loved and accepted as I am, even broken and damaged.

This difficulty with loving oneself seems common amongst most people that I know. Lovely men and women who think they are ugly; brilliant thinkers who think they are stupid; communal leaders who believe that they are secretly incompetent. It seems like nobody fully trusts that they are, in fact, amazing examples to the rest of humanity. Instead, they seek to mold themselves into perfect shells that conform exactly to what society says they should look like. They seek never to show weakness; to always be well dressed, witty, busy, intelligent, successful, and have their shit together at all times. They are terrified of the thought that they might not be perfect, as anything less would make them unlovable and worthless.

Ours is a society that values perfection over everything else. And it’s not just the airbrushed models in magazines or the pictures of smiling nuclear families in Coke ads. In our media, in our national discourse, we seek redemptive stories of people who are perfect, or stories of fucked up people becoming redeemed through the power of home makeovers or a TV therapist. There is no model for those of us (meaning everyone) who are persistently, irreversibly, eternally fucked up.

Please note that when I say “fucked up,” I am in fact talking about everyone, including those people who seem remarkably well adjusted and competent. For me personally, underneath my usually calm, compassionate, competent, intelligent, successful day-to-day demeanor there is another self. This self is a bundle of insecurities, who from time to time is convinced she is ugly, mean, and shallow. What’s more, it is worth recognizing that I am GENUINELY ugly, mean, and shallow at times. As I confess every year at Yom Kippur in the על חטא prayer, my sins are numerous, small, petty, and often without my realization until much later. And while my flaws do not negate much the parts of me that are good, honest, generous, intelligent, and caring, they are just as much a part of me as that about myself which I treasure. And, as the communal Yom Kippur confession suggests, there is not a single person on earth who is free from insecurities, flaws, and faults, who has not, from time to time, failed to live up to their best self.

In Judaism, we confess and re-confess every year. It is an endless process of recognizing and reaffirming that we are built, born, broken. That life has scarred us in a million big and small ways, and that these scars lead us to live fearful sometimes, to be less loving, to not live fully up to our ideals. Here is the thing though: we are always returning to the confession. It is a part of our year as surely as we celebrate our redemption from Egypt and Shabbat. Flaws are a natural part of our lives, to be recognized, dealt with constructively, and moved on from.

But American culture, with its drive towards perfection and consumerism, does not always allow us to take a good look at ourselves and recognize that flaws are an inherent part of human existence. Rather, we are either messed up or “cured.” We can supposedly “redeem” ourselves through beauty, or expensive goods, or motherhood, or reaching the top of the corporate ladder. So often, we catch ourselves thinking “If only _____, then my life would be perfect.” Our society, fueled by consumption, corporate greed, and oppression, has a stake in perpetuating this fucked up thinking. It keeps us from treating ourselves and one another with empathy, and encourages us to self-medicate with consumption, whether of food, or drugs, or shopping, or unsatisfying romantic relationships. A society fueled by buying and selling has a vested interest in convincing its members that they will never, ever, ever be satisfied.

But we are all of us whole, and none of us perfect. We are glorious messy human beings whose lives are happening right now. Our lives get to be good; they don’t get to be everything we imagined. And the sooner we are able to open our metaphorical arms, swoop up our flawed, scarred selves, and say, “You are beautiful and doing the best with what you have now,” the better off we will be. In our world, self-love is radical, and non-judgment of others is an act of social protest. Act up. Embrace your flaws.

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