Meditation – The Pursuit of Perfection

Benjamin Franklin was quite an extraordinary human being. It’s all there, in and between the lines of his autobiography – his potency and his extraordinariness. In this account, he catalogues thirteen desirable virtues and his fatiguing pursuit of them, his bigger goal being that of attaining “moral perfection”. Today’s reader might scoff at his endeavours, firm in the belief that perfection is unattainable. Poor Ben, maybe someone should have told him.

Increasingly, our view of the world and of ourselves is centred on the acceptance of imperfection. This has a neat name in ancient Japanese philosophy: wabi-sabi. In essence, it means acknowledging that nothing is perfect and appreciating the beauty in that. If we apply this perspective to our whole lives, it can be incredibly meaningful – I believe that. Embracing imperfection can help us to make peace with what is and accept change. And yet, can we really ignore our spiritual longing for perfection? Should we? There is so much gained understanding and beauty through Franklin’s incorrigible pursuit and relentless self-examination. There is value that cannot be drawn from the passive gaze.

When Franklin grew old, he admitted to missing his target with respect to acquiring all thirteen virtues and, by extension, moral perfection. But still, he never spoke about his endeavours with anything but pleasure in having tried. Leaning towards perfection enabled him to break bad habits, to enjoy long continued health, serve the country positively, live honourably, and countless more incredible things. In his own words:

on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it; as those who aim at perfect writing by imitating the engraved copies, tho’ they never reach the wish’d-for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the endeavor, and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible

In my view, Franklin’s example has subtly left us descendants a treasurable piece of advice – one to give or take…

Follow perfection. Tho’ you may never arrive, you will still reap the benefits.

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