But not always. Not when they are used as a whip for not reaching them. Not when they are used as a barrier to keep away people who — oh, no! — have flaws. Especially not when those people who have the flaws have hurt you in the course of being flawed.
In other words, high standards can be a great source of self-flagellation and pain.
Let’s take Daniel. His parents wanted him to excel at school — and he did. He was lucky that he was smart because if he wasn’t smart enough to get the A’s, he would have heard about it like his sister did.
She heard and heard and heard. His parents never let up on her because they wanted to extract the A’s that weren’t forthcoming. In fact, the more they shook her up, the harder it became for her to focus and the worse her grades got.
But Daniel learned a powerful lesson from it: He was better than Rosie. Thank God. He worked hard, though. He definitely did not want to ever get to play the role in the family that she played. That would be just awful.
He couldn’t imagine it. And it was convenient for him, especially being the younger sibling, not to imagine how she was suffering.
It was far more convenient for him to just go along with his parents’ diagnosis: she was lazy, maybe stupid. She didn’t try hard enough. She did it to punish them. All the things they told her, he absorbed. It made sense to him to do so — and it kept him on the safe side of his parents’ wrath.
Talk about sibling rivalry. Here we see clearly that it is not a natural result of just being siblings; it’s the result of parents comparing their children to one another.
But the story gets worse. Daniel and Rosie grew up and it was far easier to keep the ways of thinking that their parents bequeathed upon them than to question those ways.
After all, the whole thing made so much sense. Daniel grew up looking down his nose at Rosie.
After all, he was — gasp! — human. So he made mistakes. He had flaws too. Maybe not in the area of academics where he shined but in other areas. No one gets out of here claiming to be perfect.
So deep inside, there was that fear that he would slip, that maybe he had already slipped.
Like the time he was very engaged in his pursuits of a livelihood and forgot his mother’s birthday. By then he was 47 years old and had a wife and large family. No matter. He needed to remember this very important date.
The date of the entrance into the world of the person who gave him Life. And he forgot it.
He got the cold shoulder. And it wasn’t the first time, because, after all, even as a child, he’d made mistakes of one sort or another. He never was told, never, “You’re human. Only God is perfect.” So he thought he had to be.
Doing well in school, being his best at the office, marrying well and having a number of children, all were of naught if he would make one error like forgetting his mother’s birthday or forgetting his weekly call to them.
This had repercussions. Daniel carried his parents’ high standards with him.
When he failed, he could not stop berating himself for it. No number of apologies to his mother would help and no amount of self-punishment would help either.
Not only that, Daniel had very few friends. After all, people in the community are human. Flawed. Imperfect. If they were to forget to say a kind word to him when something went wrong — they must not be good people.
Like that time that Hurricane Sandy swamped his house and the family was out of the house for six months. His good friend did not call, did not email, did not text. Nothing. Why hadn’t Arnie gotten in touch to extend his support when he needed it? Never mind that Arnie’s child was in the hospital.
After all what Arnie’s son had was chronic and he was in and out of the hospital all the time with him. But the hurricane was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Arnie should have called. Period.
And let’s not get into the story of Daniel’s wife’s side of the family. Did they say anything about the family’s needs after the hurricane? Not a thing.
Forget the fact that they didn’t know what to say and didn’t want to make Daniel feel like the object of pity so they didn’t say anything. Forget the fact that just maybe they really are a little too self-involved. Well, that’s a flaw! Who wants to associate with them?
So where is Daniel as a result of all this?
Kind of alone.
Is it better to have imperfect friends and not-so-deep relationships than none at all?
That’s the question.
I can’t answer that for Daniel. But I can certainly tell you that because of his high standards, deep inside, Daniel is not happy with himself. And that is a genuine shame. At least a person should like himself.
I think it’s far healthier to break down that standards barrier all around. Break it down first within oneself and then towards others.
Start to forgive yourself for the errors and the sins, even the crazy ones.
Even the time you yelled at your neighbor due to the stress of the moment. Forgive yourself for being passed over for the end-of-year bonus; you did try after all. Forgive yourself for forgetting the important birthday that you should have known better than to forget.
Forgiving yourself paves the way for forgiving others. Seeing your own flaws in a positive light enables you to tolerate theirs.
Daniel then can make room to recognize the pain that Rosie must have gone through and create a relationship with her. Daniel can recognize the sleepless nights that Arnie must be having and forgive the missed attention from him.
Daniel can also recognize that his in-laws are just people and it’s better to smile at them and say, “hello,” than to complain within.
Yes, high standards are wonderful provided we use them as tools for visualizing success but it’s not good when we use them as weapons for avoiding failure.
Success should look beautiful and sweet. We should not think of it as the way to avoid being clobbered over the head for not reaching it.