I have had many an occasion to contemplate the depth of meaning contained in the phrase "Perfect is the enemy of 'good enough.'" This particular turn of phrase has often awakened in me a twinge of guilt, because in the final analysis, I am quite the perfectionist. This, I think, is one of the great qualities required of a change agent- and I count myself a member of this seemingly rarefied population- and in particular the change agent who would actually have herself affect change. There is, I sense, a deep conflict in the heart of every reformed (or recovering) perfectionist. It manifests in the form of a clash between the urge, even the compelling need, to improve things- a deep disdain, if you will, for mediocrity in all its forms- and the limitations of time and sanity that forces a surrender to imperfection.
Naturally, any discussion of compromise, of surrendering battles to the overwhelming forces of mediocrity, would have to involve a mention of the new Wall Street Journal. I must admit to a deep and painful mistrust and, dare I say, even occasional hatred of the Jorunal's op-ed pages. Be this as it may, I couldn't help but catch this snippet today on why Obama makes the United States look "naive."
There is great virtue in the American way, which expects CEOs to perform on a quarterly basis, presidents and Congresses to reinvent politics in 100 days, generals to wipe out opponents in 100 hours without taking significant casualties, doctors to save life and limb every time, search engines to yield a million results in less than a second, and so on. There is also great virtue in the belief that what is bad can be made good, and that what is good can be made great, and that what is fractionally less than great is downright awful.
But these virtues can spawn vices. One is impatience. Another is a culture of chronic complaint. A third is the belief that every problem has a solution, that trial is possible without error, that risks must always be zero, that every inconvenience is an outrage, every setback a disaster and every mishap a plausible basis for a lawsuit.
The drive to excel is cultural, I think sometimes. But, then, so is the drive to coast, foot off the gas, downhill, at a leisurely pace. Swimming through the molasses of those drives makes it awfully hard to muster the energy to press on.
"I'll speak for you. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint."
- Antonio Salieri (as interpreted by Peter Shaffer)