22 March 2010

Wabi-Sabi & the Reverence for Imperfection

Perfectionism is, at the very least, a recipe for discontent--one I'm all too familiar with. I spent more years than I care to admit as a doctorate student trying to perfect a dissertation and in the process making myself, and those around me, crazy. Perhaps this is why I find the concept of Wabi-Sabi so refreshing. It feels  like a home-coming.

I like to contrast Wabi-sabi with perfectionism, even if that's not the best contrast. It's important to notice that perfectionism isn't just an attribute of individuals, but also of cultures. Looking around the Modern West, I see obsessive perfectionism right at the heart of our collective identity. We pride ourselves in it and look down on more "relaxed" cultures, even if it's no longer fashionable to call them "primitive". To say that the Modern West has something to prove is an understatement. We've stepped in to fill the job of the old Christian God, and we're collectively scrambling to bone up for the job, for which we are a bit under-qualified. Perhaps this is part of the reason we're so obsessed with all things productivity related.