‘Nobody’s perfect’

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

Indeed, those who are in denial about their own specific imperfections are often obsessed with the imperfections of others.

fedwa wazwaz


People often say: “Nobody’s perfect.” Many motivational speakers and life coaches are fond of the phrase. Even Adam, the first among us, wasn’t perfect. It’s undeniably true, and obsessing over perfection can be a harmful practice. But what sorts of things can we hide behind the phrase “nobody’s perfect?”

Imagine a child who is raised in a family where, every time he does something wrong, his parents make excuses: “He didn’t mean it,” “he’s a good boy,” “everyone makes mistakes.” Instead of the child facing the consequences of his actions, accepting responsibility, and repairing the harm, he avoids them because “he’s only human.”

This can result in a case like Brock Turner’s, where, even when he has been convicted of rape, his parents make excuses and help him evade responsibility. Here, the mantra that “I’m not perfect” becomes a way of refusing to deal with one’s crimes.

Indeed, those who are in denial about their own specific imperfections are often obsessed with the imperfections of others.

We need to ask ourselves: What have I done to nurture my soul and purify my heart? How many times have I genuinely apologized for wrongdoing? There is an exercise any of us can do: Write down, on a sheet of paper, how many times we have deeply apologized to another? How did it make you feel?

Those of us who are honest with ourselves likely felt dread and fear before a genuine apology. Those who don’t likely bypassed responsibility and perhaps even attacked others. They say, “I’m imperfect, we’re all imperfect, we’re all sinners, let’s move on.” These people apologize or repent without ever apologizing or repenting.

So what is the solution?

The first is acceptance. We need to accept not that humans, in general, are imperfect, but our specific imperfections. We need to recognize the environment and causes of these imperfections.

The second is to admit when we have done wrong, repair the harm, and work to overcome our imperfections. Just saying “nobody’s perfect, I accept myself” isn’t enough. When we transgress against others, we need to acknowledge this and work to repair the harm we’ve created.

Everyone needs to continue working on themselves. The great scholar and teacher Shaykh Ramadan al-Buti has decades of knowledge, and yet he carries it with humility, and attended a talk by one of his students—he said—to purify his heart.

In that lesson, al-Buti asked whether those listening had complained about their weaknesses and imperfections to God? We often complain about others to God. But do we sit with God and talk to Him about our own transgressions, dark thoughts, or feelings? Do we ask Him to help us or put us in the path of someone who can help us remove those imperfections?

Yet what’s most important is to acknowledge our flaws not to the world, but to ourselves. Only we can answer these questions. There’s no need to answer them to the crowd, because speaking to an audience can distort how we talk about ourselves.

For myself, I remember a time in school when I was a classroom monitor, and I was making tea for a Korean teacher in her classroom. I accidentally broke the pot, but, instead of telling her, I snuck out of the classroom and didn’t come back. I spent weeks dealing with dread and guilt before I was able to pray to God, asking God to help me. Finally, I went and explained that it was me. It was a very difficult conversation to have, but crucially, I had turned to God.

If you have this conversation with God, then God is not going to shame you. If we look at Adam and Satan, yes, Adam made a mistake, out of neglect. This mistake didn’t bring him down in the eyes of God, although Adam did have to deal with the consequences of his actions. If you believe in specific imperfections, then you have to deal with consequences. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.

But if you walk around telling others, “I’m not perfect,” “We’re all sinners,” “I’m a humble imperfectionist,” then that might be a way of seeking not understanding or growth, but attention. God doesn’t want us to say “I’m bad, I’m bad,” but instead, “Strengthen me.”

We each need to recognize our areas of weakness, and ask God to strengthen us in these areas.

We’re always—all of us—discovering things we have to work on. We need to help ourselves and others to connect with God in a humble way.

Umar, for instance, one of the companions of the Prophet, peace upon him, would take an hour each day to call himself to account. Umar would go through everything he’d done that day, good and bad, and he would deal with each specific flaw in turn. This isn’t a game of blame or guilt, but an honest assessment of our behaviors. This is something to which we can all strive.

This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US.  She was the chair for the Interfaith Relations at Islamic Center of Minnesota.  She has completed training in restorative justice at the University’s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking.  She was a 2008-2009 policy fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.  She is a public speaker and writer and lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

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© Copyright 2005-2018.  Fedwa Wazwaz, All rights reserved.

About engagemn

A Voice for Minnesotan Muslims

Posted on January 25, 2018, in Engage Minnesota, Fedwa Wazwaz and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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