Abolish Perfection

we cannot be perfect to a system that is not perfect for us

A black woman stares at us deeply as she pulls the thread off of a crimson red cloth in the background, suspended off of a barbed wire, over an even deeper royal blue plane. One hand holds a loose pearl, the other holds two pearls threaded through in the string coming from the red cloth. The pearls in the string and her hand rest on an apparently blank loose sheet of a notebook. A lone pearl rolls loose on the sheet of paper, while a last pearl hangs in the air in the foreground.
Meada, 2021. Work by Antonio Obá, Ceilândia, DF, Brazil 1983

There is no space for possibility in perfection. Perfection is a concept that I often see used to describe something that fits something else nicely — in relation to a plan, a project, a solution, a deed — we say something is perfect when we think it is a good means to an end. It feels good to fit in, it feels simple and resolute. What is very deceiving about that is that simplicity may erase important information about the end to what we are doing — what is behind this, and why we are doing it. Like when we say someone got the perfect grade or rating: 5 out 5 stars, 10 out of 10 points, or Superb performance, meaning that person achieved the greatest qualification within a schooling or corporate system. The confines of what greatness is within that system may or may not match the one’s fullest potential. So it is important to distinguish the system from the individual. Systems are everywhere, they are part of how we organize as society: schools, companies, social media, etc. They serve specific purposes, usually tied to money making. Systems are also each one of us, and we are capable of so much more than making money. We often forget that money was invented, and it should be an enabler, not a dictatorship of value transfer and meaning of life. It is up to us to decide the values we uphold and the meaning of our lives, much like the systems we want to build or be a part of.

🧵 Unraveling the system within

As a teenager, I felt diminished and demoralized by grades in school, and I promised myself that I would never let a system judge my abilities again. But I failed. Contrary to what I thought, grading is an integral part of every system, it is the mechanism that assigns value to things that come in and out of it. In most systems, those things include us — people. As soon as I landed my first corporate job, grades were quickly substituted by “quotas”, “targets” and those, in turn, were critical elements of “performance assessments”, processes that determined one’s compensation and promotion within the company. I understood the value of measurement as a means to observe results, and I learned how to appreciate that. I also learned how subtle the system was in using that method to control people. Yes, it made sense to create measurable goals so that we could assess whether our approach to solving something was working. But my contributions to that approach or solution were far greater than its results — what could be measured.

At work, I lended my passion, my time, and a portion of my life to resolve something that could never be measured by a performance review. I knew that on some level, but everyone around me was always so obsessed about the metrics and targets we set ourselves to achieve, that I eventually became one of the persons advocating for those metrics. I knew they were tied to objective value added to our customers, to our partners, sellers and company as a whole. However, the group of people that were obsessed about these metrics made me, for the first time since teenagerhood, become obsessed about my performance ratings, just another type of grading. I, like many others, became extremely anxious about my performance assessment, and I learned everything I could to have structured conversations around my ratings. I asked for examples of what I could have done better, and what “perfection” would look like, only to realize that it was all fake. No matter how prepared my managers were to have that conversation with me, their examples were always weak and not congruent with the reality of the work environment we were in. The system itself was the problem.

Even here, as I was preparing to start my first blog in English, I automatically did a bit of research regarding which platform would be best to host my writing. That’s when I realized that even platforms like Medium follow suit of social media. Your numbers of likes and followers here are no different from likes, followers or subscribers on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube. For once, I am not following recipes for success. I am doing my best to follow my own lead on what I have to say after an intense year of profound reflections and observations. If this reaches interested readers, great, if it doesn’t, too bad — the system needs fixing.

Last month, I decided that I would stay true to my teenager self, and instead of letting the system rank me, I would rank the system instead. The system is not “perfect” for me, and I know it is even less “perfect” for others. It is only a mechanism that sustains the illusion of meritocracy. In turn, that is an oppressive system. In the words of Sonya Renee Taylor, the system creates a “ladder of bodily hierarchy”, placing certain groups at the top, and others, at the bottom. In practice, I finally understood that not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that could be counted, counts. I know we need systems to organize ourselves and get things done. I also know we can do better by each other, and work in ways that do not require dishonest ways of assessing one’s value to the system itself. Instead of sustaining systems of scarcity, where only one person, or group, can be ranked higher than the other, we can build systems of abundance, where everyone is celebrated for their contributions, and truly excel being exactly who they are, authentically working with one another to drive the objective goal they have as a group, and be valued equitably for doing so.

🟦🟥 Beyond deceiving opposites and the myth of the great savior

In my home country, Brazil, during the 2018 elections, supporters of genocide Bolsonaro believed this one individual alone could solve the systemic issue of corruption by which our country was founded. I personally know several individuals who wholeheartedly believed that all it would take would be to remove a handful of “bad oranges” from the opposition, and corruption would be no more. When asked about the opposition, Bolsonaro’s voters would have one of two arguments: either the opposition was an imperfect party, or an imperfect candidate. And in this particular case, although either could be logically true, Bolsonaro volders almost always grossly undermined the fact that beyond being an ethical aberration, Bolsonaro had no government plan or any record of efficacy as a leader. On one hand, this dual view of the world, good and bad, sounds like a naïve supposition that people and actions can be easily classified as corrupted and uncorrupted, good and evil. On the other hand, the use of this logic became an effective strategy to maneuver the non-politicized great mass of Brazilian voters into voting in the worst president this country could ever have. What went wrong here was that we convectively failed to look at the system, and focused only at its products. This myth of the big-daddy-like figure as society’s white savior of all “evil” has been a common thread, surging in so many countries. Many fall prey to this false dualistic view of the world, and end up choosing the path of least resistance, or according to the big media groups, the least stressful to choose from. More often than not, that means upholding the system, no matter how oppressive it may be to most of us.

👁️ Why is conformity the default expectation and experience?

Inertia and conformism. It took hundreds of years for the the white-cis-hetero-male group to build their “perfect” system. One which has been built on the premise of colonialism, individualism and meritocracy. A system which, for the longest time, we dared not question its premise. Today we can see where this has taken us as a society. The search for perfection is nothing but an obsessive and neurotic refusal of life and reality in its beautiful complexity. This type of conformism is nothing short of a sickening tyranny. In recent reflections, I noticed we have the tendency to seek and believe in simple solutions to solve incredibly complex issues. This is reflected upon fanaticism of all kinds, from political extremism to overt fascism. Albeit comforting, this delusional thinking prevents us from tackling reality, by either abstaining from taking responsibility over our actions, and therefore being afraid or refusing to act to change things, or having preconceived notions of the impact of our actions, choosing the individual and selfish course of action over the collective need for radical change, despite the tax that sustaining the status quo imposes on each and every one of us.

🦪 Embracing Brilliancy and Uniqueness

I choose Abolish Perfect as my new personal mantra, because I can confidently say that the white supremacist patriarchal heteronormative ableist system we live in is not meant for critical thinkers like you and me, least of all, to proponents of new systems and equitable solutions for social justice. If we have any notion of survival, we cannot reasonably accept this, or live an authentic life while upholding this system. So in true systemic practice, I invite you to join me in the movement to abolish perfection. Every time you see the effects of systems that are promoting someone for fitting in (including you) or preventing others from living authentically because the system will not recognize them or value their contributions (also including you), because it doesn’t fit within the way things are measured — remember: these are the signs that we need to abolish perfection. So when you catch yourself looking to get that a number of followers on social media, hitting that body figure, that rating on your performance assessment — ask yourself: Why? How is that reflective of who you want to be? How is this enabling you to be a more loving and kinder being to yourself and others around you?

💃 Change is a dance of chance and possibility.

No system is too big or too small to be changed, for they all have something special in common: they are made of people like you and me. But to change things beyond us, we cannot hold our back creativity and instincts. Our time’s imperative is to flow, not to freeze — so dance to the music! The systems that require “perfection” for something to be done, are not taking into account the state of vulnerability, turbulence, complexity and ambiguity of reality. So embrace reality! Solutions in this problem space simply cannot be perfect, so abolish perfection. As Maya Angelou taught us, we can only do the best we can, and once we know better, we can do better. Do better by your own definition of success, and not anyone else’s — you cannot be perfect for anyone, but yourself. Be authentic to who you are, be curious about what you or your collective can achieve beyond what is known or valued in the mainstream. As bell hooks (in memoriam) would put it, we need a love ethic that promotes authenticity, curiosity and compassion. These are far more constructive and embracing values to help us get out of the mess we’re in, and might as well be just what we need to find the answer to once and for all #AbolishPerfection.

With a collective of us, we can effectively build a new system that embraces us all, with an entirely new set of values to replace oppressive, reductive and simplistic notions of perfection. Feel free to share this piece with anyone you think is ready to live an authentic life, and help dismantle systems from the inside out.

P.S. 🖼️ Why the image?

Last month, I saw this emblematic painting at a special art exhibition of the work of Carolina Maria de Jesus at Instituto Moreira Sales, in São Paulo, Brazil. You can see it in greater detail on this post. The symbology and the layers of meaning I saw in this piece felt suiting to this piece of writing. A black woman stares at us deeply as she pulls the thread off of a crimson red cloth in the background, suspended off of a barbed wire, over an even deeper royal blue plane. One hand holds a loose pearl, the other holds two pearls threaded through in the string coming from the red cloth. The pearls in the string and her hand rest on an apparently blank loose sheet of a notebook. A lone pearl rolls loose on the sheet of paper, while a last pearl hangs in the air in the foreground. In my own interpretation, the artist invites us to join the black woman in the act of turning the background of a not-too-distant history and examine our place in it. As she has already gathered two or three pearls on her blank notebook sheet, we see another one right ahead of us. How many other pearls can be within reach to weave this necklace of collective memory? How much richer can this version of history be, rather than that red fabric? As we unravel this fabric, we reveal the greater horizon of our liberation, bringing us here, in the moment between the past and the future, where we share the most important moment for the unfolding of history: the present.

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