I have chosen a saying coined by the French philosopher Voltaire of the late 1600s as the heading and emphasis of my column today. As I have given some serious thought to this saying, I have had to confess to being guilty of doing just what this very prudent saying warned against. I have been guilty of allowing the perfect (or at least what I perceived as the perfect in my “then” legalistic, judgmental, and critical way) to be the enemy of the good. In doing so, I discouraged, disillusioned, and perhaps contributed to a few stumbling, or even shipwrecking. Thank God, I learned my lesson well and had to reap the consequences of sowing bad seeds to the detriment of others. There are a few areas and aspects of life where many are allowing the perfect to become the enemy of the good that I will consider and briefly comment on in my column today.
Since the family is the most basic and first institution established by God, I am going to start there. A family consists of two or more people commonly beginning with the husband and his wife and increasing in numbers with the arrival of children. Many marriages have been tattered, taxed, and terminated simply because one or both partners allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good. I have set in counsel with some whose mate was not perfect but was doing good to the best of their ability. Regrettably, good was not enough for their spouse who demanded more and even perfection in certain areas. Ultimately, these unfair and often unrealistic demands destroyed their union.
The same situation often exists with parents not being satisfied with the good performance of their children academically, behaviorally, and in other areas. These types of high demanding parents often provoke their children to rebellion and failure through demanding and expecting them to be perfect or like a sibling who seems to excel in certain areas where the more normal child does not. Having reared two children to adulthood, my wife and I had to adjust our parenting strategies to suit each child who were totally different not only in gender, but also in temperament, talent, and ambition. We could have easily contributed to the shipwreck of one or both had we not realized that though they were siblings, they were first individuals with distinct and unique abilities, strengths, talents, needs, and even weaknesses. Do not let the perfect in your family relations become the enemy of the good.
Arguably, one of the places where the perfect can easily become the enemy of the good is in the setting of a local church due to the fact that so much emphasis is placed upon discipline and spiritual growth. We (myself included) often put demands upon people who are actually doing good in their role and responsibilities to follow Christ. Though it is biblical to expect and encourage people to grow and be perfect (Matthew 5:48) in their discipleship disciplines, to be perfect in the way that it is commonly used in the Bible means to be complete. It certainly does not mean to be flawless and without any defects in your character and behavior. There was only one man who lived and died for our sins who was completely perfect and immaculate in His humanity. Of course, His name is Jesus Christ. I am learning as a Christian and church leader to not allow the perfect that I am laboring to develop in my congregants (through the Holy Spirit and Word of God) to become the enemy of the good. If I continue to commend and encourage them for the good, they will ultimately produce the perfect (Romans 12:1-2).
The Political Arena
Invariably and to the detriment of our nation, one of the most important segments of our culture where this negative practice and procedure is being implemented is in the field of politics on every level – federal, state, and local. Primarily motivated by partisan politics, the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups (who contribute big bucks to politicians’ campaign funds) often becomes the enemy of the good. It is becoming increasingly difficult for politicians on the liberal left and the conservative right to reach across the aisle of the partisan divide and compromise to do what is right for our nation. At the end of the day, it is the citizens and voters (whether Republican or Democratic) who is shouldering the burden and pain for the inability and refusal of these elected officials to act on the behalf of their constituents.
Personal and Individual Pursuits and Plans
Again, I will include myself as an example of one who allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good in certain areas of my life when I was much younger than I am now. I foolishly reasoned in the area of budgeting and saving money that since I was not making but a little bit of money each week or month, what was the use of trying to budget and save any? I did not know then what it took me some time to learn (through much trial and error) what the following prudent saying by John Dryden asserts and affirms: “Ill habits gather unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas”. I disciplined myself to reverse the bad habit of wasting my money and began to budget and save. My savings and net worth grew by degrees until now I am completely debt free primarily because I stopped allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. I was able to develop a very practical and productive habit that has spilled over into other areas of my life.
This practice of not allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good will work for anyone in any aspect or area when it is implemented with diligence and persistence.