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Satisfied or Striving: Dialectic
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Decades ago, when I was in primary school, there came a year early on, when I received my end of term report card and it was all “F’s” for Fail. Horrified, my mother drove to the school like a madwoman, and demanded of the teacher how I could have failed so miserably. The teacher showed her the gradebook which every teacher keeps. After my name was a string of zeroes punctuated every once in a while by a lone 100.

After much discussion, producing both heat and light, my mother learned from the teacher that I was not submitting my work, though I seemed to be working very hard at it. From me she learned that I would not be satisfied with anything less than perfection, and I was always striving to create reports, homework, assignments without a blot or wrinkle or smudge or dog toothmark (always a hazard in our home).

My mother taught me a lifelong lesson that day. Though we are always striving for perfection—we never abandon the goal—we have to be satisfied in the real world with “good enough” or “satisfactory” or “excellent” because there is no such thing as perfection, and, in irony, the crumplings of many papers and the resultant poor grades were themselves the antithesis of perfection.

It was the introduction, in my single-digit years, to the ever-present dialectic of life, constant tension between antagonistic opposites and the reality of compromise and settlement. I have never forgotten her lesson, though I confess to a secret part of me that still wants the world and my part in it to be perfect (I have been belittled in my own family for being a “Goody Two-Shoes” or a “Pollyanna”).

I say, “Why can’t we love one another? Why can’t we forgive each other our trespasses? Why can’t we feed the hungry, clothe the poor, shelter the stranger?” And if it can’t be a perfect world, why can’t it be a better one? Answer: It can. I refuse to give up on it and be satisfied with the current state of affairs, "because that's the way it is". And if you want to ridicule me for being an optimist, go right ahead.

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