The Imperfect Search for Truth and Meaning

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” ~ Salvador Dalí

I will never be perfect. I mean, I may have a really good day, but it would be impossible to find even a few hours where I did my absolute best in every moment. The thought pains me, and yet, I know that no one else has ever been perfect, either (in spite of rumors to the contrary).

None of us is perfect; that is a statement of belief for me. Unitarian Universalism rejects the very idea that any person has ever been perfect or could ever present flawless wisdom to the rest of us. Even what was great in their time may be horribly flawed in light of our ever expanding understanding of the universe. We now know that knowledge is constantly being revealed, updated and revised. Such revelation will likely never cease. We will always have more to learn as individuals and as a species.

We must understand that every prophetic voice, every person of science, every sage is a person with limits and with flaws.

On our Facebook page, we share quotes from flawed people regularly. People like Mahatma Gandhi, whose wisdom on nonviolence is almost universally celebrated, but who had… questionable views on gender and caste roles. Martin Luther King Jr, appropriately well regarded for his oratory and organizing skills, apparently plagiarized sections of his dissertation at Boston University. Our own religious tradition is far from spotless in regards to professional scandal, and we regularly make changes in how we acknowledge and address such things.

Just as important as the humanity of our heroes, we must understand the humanity of those we dislike, knowing that we can learn from every person. Regardless of their perceived flaws and mistakes, every person is a being of inherent worth and dignity from whom we might still learn something. Any person, no matter how little we like or agree with them, might still have wisdom and knowledge to share with us.

We must remember the humanity of our heroes and our cultural opponents alike. We can build on points of agreement where they exist.

Like them, our wisdom is imperfect and incomplete.

It matters that we recognize that each quote and incitement and criticism, no matter how perfect it seems in its own time, could be rooted in ignorance or some form of discrimination we are not aware of. This ministry continues to share quotes, while trying to give context, without altering the problematic language of ages past. We will occasionally share from people with whom we largely disagree. We will not hide from the fact that every person knew something we can learn from. Or that every person had traits which we should not celebrate. Every person has inherent value, but none of them is perfect from every angle.

Part of the growing tradition of Unitarian Universalism is recognizing the flawed history of the human race; recognizing that we are on a long and winding path. The justice we fight for is not a decades-long struggle, but one spanning millennia. We can draw wisdom from flawed sources, seeing that these were each a small victory in the larger fight. Let’s remember that we cannot know how our best and brightest will be remembered a hundred years from now.

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