It is certainly not perfection. The challenge is that we often confuse perfection with wholeness. The resulting push to avoid mistakes and thereby be “perfect,” not only limits creativity, it blocks the very transformation we seek. As it common in cultures on the downside of the lifecycle, there is a strong fear of failure. It is important to remember that the ancients understood wholeness to include both shadow and light. As Carl Jung notes: “There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection. To found itself out life… calls not for perfection but for completeness and for this the ‘thorn in the flesh’ is needed, the suffering of defects without which there is no progress and no ascent.”
A mistranslation of the Greek word telios has led generations to seek “perfection” over “completeness”… over Shalom. Leaders intentional about growing up into spiritual maturity understand the importance of acknowledging the dualities within each one of us. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in The Power of Full Engagement reflect on the concept of anacolutha—he mutual entailment of virtues: “By this notion no virtue is a virtue by itself. Rather, all virtues are entailed. Honesty, without compassion, for example becomes cruelty.” To lead with integrity requires a willingness to engage the whole person, not just those attributes considered to be culturally acceptable. This speaks to the need for leaders who have dared to confront and claim their whole selves in service to people and planet. As Henri Nouwen reminds us: “The great illusion of leadership is to think that we can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”
When we resist or deny the reality of our wounds, the outcome is cut off: from ourselves, our families, our work, our communities, our planet. In technical terms, cut off refers tot he action of distancing in response to disruptive emotions. We cannot love others, if we do not also love ourselves. Love of self involves coming to terms with our wounds, lest we protect onto others our unresolved issues.
Is it possible that we believe this life’s journey should come without challenge? Our present exile is a reminder that we are, at best, ambivalent about the rigors of the spiritual journey. Yet, exile provides opportunity to come to terms with the shadow and light that dwells within each one of us.