"Slightly imperfect:’ a label for just about everybody
“Slightly imperfect” is what the label reads on my new but discounted package of underwear.
I am struck by the accuracy of the description not so much of the package’s contents but of its purchaser.
“Slightly imperfect” is a concise but comprehensive depiction of the human condition and we all see evidence of this truth everywhere we turn.
I’ve been pondering this reality ever since reading the latest edition of The American Scholar that includes the fascinating story by Dr. Sherwin Nuland of a brilliant young Hungarian physician with the rather ungainly name of Ignac Semmelweis.
Dr. Semmelweis, you may be surprised to learn, was the first to realize the danger of a doctor transmitting germs from one patient to another.
As early as 1837, Semmelweis was urging his fellow physicians to carefully wash between patients.
Such a finding, self-evident as it may seem to us, might have saved thousands, perhaps millions, of lives if only anyone had believed him.
But from all accounts, Dr. Semmelweis was such a cantankerous offensive man who so alienated his co-workers that his vital discovery was ridiculed and ultimately ignored.
It was not until 30 years after his death that the medical establishment even seriously considered the theory of microscopic organisms carrying disease.
It was another 20 years before Semmelweis’s discovery was universally accepted.
Clearly the inability of others to deal with one man’s imperfections prevented the world from reaping the benefits of his brilliance.
One cannot help but wonder how many others, equally brilliant and equally abrasive, have been denied the opportunity to share their gifts. And yet, there is abundant evidence that many great discoveries and achievements have been made by personalities less than pleasant.
Albert Schweitzer, one of my great heroes, was said to have been quite difficult to be around. Indeed, his own wife and daughter chose to remain in Europe while he did his phenomenal humanitarian work in Africa.
Robert Frost was, by all accounts, a curmudgeon of the first order and Lewis Carroll, the man who created the memorable “Alice in Wonderland,” had a fetish for photographing young girls in various states of undress.
In spite of these failings, these men were celebrated both in their lifetimes and beyond.
In the realm of politics, the flaws of many have been made manifest and yet they have still managed to make a positive impact on the life of this nation.
We all know about Bill Clinton’s weaknesses. John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King had similar failings. Why do some very imperfect folk manage to make their mark while others are perfectly ignored?
Why was Semmelweis admonished while Schweitzer adored? As the political campaign grows ever more intense, the question becomes ever more important.
Dr. Howard Dean’s rant, John Kerry’s aloofness and Gen. Wesley Clark’s oratorical failings are vivid witness to the state of our communal condition.
Of course, Sens. Joe Lieberman and John Edwards have their own limitations. All together, these candidates provide proof positive that the quest for human perfection is positively futile.
A little howl here, a turned up nose there nothing more than vivid evidence and an important reminder that we are all slightly imperfect.
Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday
column for the Summit Daily News. They are usually perfect. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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