You know that “perfect” mom you see on Facebook, with her sunshine-y pictures of laughing children and the cutest dog ever?
Her son has a learning disorder and she is battling an alcohol addiction.
You know the guy who lives down the street from you and runs marathons, drives a BMW and has a law degree and a medical degree?
His high school girlfriend took her life and he believes it was his fault.
How about your yoga teacher, who is vegan and gluten free, seems perpetually calm and can bang out scorpion as easily as she blows her nose?
She can’t get pregnant and she and her husband are on the verge of divorce.
Or the famous singer who travels the world doing what she loves, yet fears she is a talentless fraud who will be outed at any moment?
Are these real people? No. But they are archetypes of people we know and see around us all the time. We have become quite adept in our society at curating our images, at polishing and smoothing the facets of the stone which is us—the facets that reflect outwardly anyway—so that they obscure the hidden flaws within.
It is human nature to want to appear perfect. Perfection indicates invulnerability, and if you are invulnerable you can’t be hurt.
And yet we know that nothing and no one is perfect. So why do we persist in in buying into the idea of “perfect”?
I have come to believe that it is not only inauthentic, but profoundly damaging to ourselves and others to pretend to be something we are not. What’s the harm in posting the best pictures of yourself, or in only talking about the positives in your life, or glossing over past or present challenges?
The harm is that we isolate ourselves in our pretend world, losing the opportunity to connect with others who might be suffering similarly. We also lose the sense and beauty of our true selves, so focused are we on maintaining our false image.
This is not to say that we should go around discussing our divorces and our eating disorders, our infertility, our addictions and everything else that’s happening in our very human lives at every turn, but that we should acknowledge those things at the appropriate times to the appropriate people without being afraid.
In my adult life, I have learned to accept my many limitations, if not wholly embrace them.
I discuss mistakes that I’ve made, or crappy things that have happened to me with—some might consider—alarming candor. Of course, I want people to think well of me, but I understand that not everyone will and I’m okay with that. I am infinitely happier than when I worried I was too fat to leave the house, or when I wasted five years with a guy who hated me simply because I was too humiliated to admit I’d been unable to make him love me.
Accepting as fact that everyone is fighting secret battles means that none of us are alone. It also means that you can, and should, extend compassion to both the jerkiest and most perfect-seeming among us.
It means that when someone cuts you off in traffic, you don’t immediately pound on your horn and flip him a double bird. You think, maybe he is late for something really important, like his daughter’s dance recital, which he promised her he would see come hell or high water, a promise he must keep because he’s broken too many promises to her before.
I’d like to start a cult of reality.
I may look like I’ve got my shit together; nice house, great kids, handsome husband etc, but the reality is I had a drug problem, that problem led me to dancing, and that dancing is how I met my husband. The reality also is that I am healthy and strong now, and I’m grateful for all the bumps and flaws life doled out to me because otherwise I’d be a) boring and b) (much more importantly) not who I am today which is who I want to be.
That is not to say I don’t still have bad days. I do, plenty of them. Everyone does. Look around you. Someone you idolize or resent for their relentless awesomeness might be having a bad day right now.
Even if you don’t or can’t say a single word to them, if you operate from that truth, your compassion will be transformative in ways you may never know.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman