Lots of people like to say I have high standards, for myself and for others, and that I hold people to unreasonable expectations of behaviour and integrity. Those people also like to say that I’m never satisfied, that I’ll never get anywhere if I can’t accept the fact that people are human. What those people seem to miss is that I’m never satisfied not because I have some outsized, unrealistic vision of what we are capable of, but because I know we can do better, and I know it because I’m seen it, felt it, and heard it. I know that we have a capacity for greatness that goes far beyond the low standards people set for themselves and society, and I’m going to keep pushing until we reach it.
I’m going to keep pushing myself, too, because the only way I can expect society to reach a higher standard is by constantly reassessing the height of the bar for myself. This is not a game of moving goalposts, where people can never be good enough because there is always something better to achieve, but it is an evolutionary process. As I navigate the world around me and am in turn changed by my interactions with it, I learn things. Sometimes what I learn is that I can do better, or that people around me can do better.
Sometimes it seems like those of us who have high standards of integrity are doomed to frustration, because everywhere around us, things are falling apart. But when things go right, when things go well, I see that glimmer of hope, of something that could be if we are willing to work for it. It’s those moments that I work for, because the knowledge that they are there keeps me going. The question isn’t whether people or things are perfect, but whether people are ready to take their share of the burden to push towards something greater.
Not perfect. Never perfect. Because there is no perfect, and this perhaps is the greatest flaw in the logic people use to argue I’m being unreasonable. There is no such thing as perfection, and no way to achieve it, because we are living in a constantly changing world filled with diverse people and things and places, all of which have their own needs, sometimes in conflict. We live in a growing world, and that means that as things shift, they move in relation to each other; there is no perfect alignment that can be singled out as a model.
People who think there’s a perfect are more likely to stop pushing, because they get frustrated with the realisation that they can’t achieve some kind of idealistic goal. I operate in full awareness of the fact that humans are flawed and that the idea of reaching some pinnacle of social progress is ludicrous and unachievable, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try, bit by bit, to build a better world, and to encourage others to do the same. I’m certainly not going to throw in a towel at my failures, because that doesn’t accomplish anything.
Maybe I do have high standards for the human beings around me, but I’m honestly okay with that. I don’t think a willingness to try, to learn, to change, is too much to ask, and I resent the implication that I’m naive or foolish to expect that of people. I expect decency of people, I expect people to be kind to one another, I expect people to consider the emotions and wellbeing of other human beings, including people they will never meet or interact with. That doesn’t mean people need to sit around gazing into their navels while thinking deep thoughts about the human condition; maybe it’s something as simple as being kind to a waitress, or saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in social settings.
There is nothing wrong with having standards and believing in them and asking other people to believe in them with you. Those who say I will never be satisfied are often those most resistant to behaving with even a minimum of human decency, which leads me to wonder whether they really think I’m such a hopeless case…or whether they just want an excuse to continue their existing behaviour unimpeded. They want to be able to continue being cruel to people, to live in a world where their fellow humans don’t matter, to refuse to acknowledge the diversity of human experience, so they attempt to quash me because they think that negates my beliefs. It may help negate their guilt, but if they’re feeling guilt at all for their behaviour, it would seem to suggest that somewhere deep inside, they have some standards of their own.
So no, I won’t be satisfied, and I don’t have a problem with the people around me who won’t be satisfied either. Because this can be an unsatisfying world in many ways, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try my damndest to make it a better one, because I cannot do nothing, and I cannot watch others do nothing either. It’s not enough, and I don’t live in a world based on ‘enough,’ nor do I consent to being pressed into a corner where ‘enough’ would make me happy. I won’t settle, and I don’t think anyone else should either.
Because once you settle, where do you go from there? And how do you live with compromising yourself?