Q: After reading the comments on perfectionism, I couldn’t help but think how it sounded like a prescription for mediocrity. Would we have great art, music and literature in a world with low standards? In fact, isn’t it one of the criticisms of our culture that it produces quantity over quality (i.e., it’s produced by people who haven’t really spent enough time at their craft?).

A: A couple of quite different responses to your question come to mind:

1) Some artists who produced great art were miserable, of course. (Van Gogh immediately comes to mind.) If his misery somehow helped him to create great art, I’m glad for us that he was miserable! But I’m sure he wasn’t glad for himself, and he felt he wasted his life regardless of his accomplishments.

2) I don’t believe misery “helps” in any way at all! I wonder what Van Gogh could have created if he was self-accepting, self-loving, etc…. And I bet he wondered too.

3) I believe our culture produces too much junk too. I think it most often is produced by people who overvalue money, possessions, “winning,” and imagined superiority – instead of those who value self-acceptance, acceptance of others, and closeness.

4) Even though we produce way too much junk in this culture, we also produce a lot of quality. The people I know who produce quality are a lot happier than those who produce quantity. (What is your experience about this?)

I think the key disagreement between us is that I believe quality comes from feeling good about ourselves, and you believe it comes from feeling bad about ourselves and trying to “earn” our value through the things we produce. If this is even close to the truth for you, please ask yourself where you got the ideas expressed in your question. My guess is that you got them from people who were not kind to you and who sort of “force fed” these ideas into you.

I don’t believe it’s natural for us to grow up trying to meet difficult and perfectionistic standards.

I believe we are born accepting of ourselves and we don’t lose that unless we absolutely must, under duress.

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