Perfectionism is just a word until one begins thinking about the role it has played in one’s life. As usual, it is an activity, which when fused with social expectations, becomes an object of practical, moral and economic opinion. Perfectionism is not a “thing” but a tool with which to assess standards and compare outcomes, especially in art, literature and other creative endeavors.
Intelligent-creative people, minorities, and the disabled are held to much higher standards of “achievement” than typically-abled humans.
Google “perfectionism” and a highly negative picture appears. Once again, psychology has made a judgment about PEOPLE who are perfectionists; they are bad, unhappy, trapped in a corner, wasting their lives. We see the “pyramid scheme” poking through: common everyday perfectionists are self-abusers, unhappy, and paradoxically, create failure, but upper echelon “money-makers,” are praised as perfectionists. A start up company, or artistic catalogue, once it becomes “trendy” and profitable, is contrarily opined as a positive result of perfectionism. Long hours, dedication to a goal, the march of progress and final economic success are added to the unending search for human perfection.
Athletes and immigrants are particularly subject to having their lives rewritten as journeys that fulfill the cultural need for success; rags to riches, American Dream, unlimited opportunity; the story of those whose early deprivation presented signs of future fame and influence. Perfect performance is always a component of the myth, but the expectation of perfection can be destructive. How many “celebrity” children are crushed by such demands? And, the distance between failure and perfection grows and grows in American culture. It is no longer enough to be a “millionaire.” One must be a “billionaire.” One cannot simply post a funny video; it must generate millions of views globally. One cannot have a handful of close friends; one must garner the notice of thousands of strangers. And so, the perfect life is money and attention; not for any good reason, just because notoriety is the new “unreachable” scale of perfection.
We lie to children and torment them with one treacherous statement:
“You can be anything you dream of being,” is a bald-faced lie.
This pompous assertion cuts off actual potential by a “mental device” that has become typical in the U.S.; by presenting a socially reverse-engineered pop-culture myth, the “you can be anything” statement is delivered by individuals who have already achieved great success. The accompanying myth of their (supposedly) meteoric rise always includes magical signs that predict greatness – a “lucky” legitimacy and foreshadowing of destiny by a chance meeting with a superstar; an injury that turned out to be a blessing; a lost parent who directs a child’s fate from the afterlife; a sudden supernatural voice, at the right moment, that said, “never give up.” These motivational events happen to almost all humans, but do not produce fame and fortune in the majority. The seed is planted: anything less than extraordinary destiny becomes failure.
Dream big! Achieve little.
The goal of becoming an adult who can find satisfying work, a worthwhile partner and the means to raise a family, has fallen to the bottom of the pyramid, when this “outcome” is the common denominator by which “average people” express the greatest source of happiness. But this achievement is not possible: everyone must put up the appearance of becoming more, and more and more.
I do think that Asperger individuals have a tricky relationship with “perfection”. Perfection as the act of seeking and creating meaningful work I see as no problem, but when our “passion” becomes a “fate” by which we are judged, it becomes a noose that tightens against our “defects”. Expectations as “the gifted child” create a problem: our lives have been laid out before us as a burden and an obligation; “gifts” are dangerous in a mediocre society. This is an ancient human theme in which those who arrive with something “extra” are expected to save everyone’s ass by acts of sacrifice, but are also expected to “disappear” once they are no longer useful.
We see this again and again in young men who are asked to die by old men; soldiers have difficulty in not identifying the two as one and the same: Young males must die for the old. Isn’t this upside down? Why isn’t it the old and useless males, who have had their chance at life who are expected to “volunteer” to “save” young fathers and sons from unwarranted tragedy?
We encounter perfection and want to merge with it, which for me at least, is my subjective experience of “bliss”. Mythologies the world over warn of such improper boundary crossings by humans into the realm of the gods. Countless myths offer up Heroes who are granted “fire stolen from the gods” that costs them everything, but in the long run restores balance to society, which is the real goal of their existence. So, in this philosophy, talents and abilities are not the end in themselves, but means to ends; ends that are available to humans in general when an individual applies his or her abilities toward a realizable goal.
American culture is blind to this deeper and wider actualization of success. In the U.S., only those at the apex of the Pyramid count. The promise is to elevate “the peasants” to the upper levels of the pyramid, but this is logically impossible. The top 1% needs the 99% of humanity at the bottom to fail – and defines failure as “not being” at the top of the hierarchy.
Aspergers are susceptible to being judged on the basis of success as something elevated beyond “normal”. In the neurotypical scheme of life, a child obsessed with knowledge dares to pass into factual reality, which contains the secrets of the universe; a domain where few socially typical individuals dare to go. Taboo, because neurotypical predators crave domination: any “successful” neurotypical would use intelligence to exploit other people. The idea that “Aspergers” have little to no social ambition is simply not credible; in fact it is a source of derision and fear – and opportunity for social predators. .
As a young child I was terribly confused. My intelligence was superficially praised, but harshly received. Intelligence was tested and tracked and presented as important, but forbidden to girls – actualization of “power” was a crime against nature, religion and males of any kind: against all of “defenseless” neurotypical humanity. Ironically, extra abilities and the good fortune of “beauty” could be exploited for family status (marry a rich man, become a “beauty queen”, an actress or celebrity) or to manipulate others behind the scenes to benefit a husband. Selfish ends were quite okay, but a desire to improve a greater sphere of human need was forbidden. To expand knowledge, opinion, laws or the frontiers of human stupidity was, and is, forbidden.
It has taken a lifetime to construct a workable “fix” for myself: Perfection happens. Nature is the domain of perfection and it is informative that nature never rests, but is the continual unfolding of possibilities within a set of laws (boundaries) – a balance of change and continuity that is perfect only in the moment. It’s okay to strive for perfection in creative work, but it’s good to understand that perfection is ephemeral.
Life may be a tool by which the universe acknowledges its own perfection.
However, no human is required to be perfect: What a relief. Nor is any child or adult required to fulfill any expectation that the label “Asperger’s Disorder” attempts to place on them.