Open Email to Tal Ben-Shahar, on his book The persuit of Perfect

Hi Tal,

I am just going through your book The Persuit of Perfect and I think I get what you are saying only it is so easy to get caught by the dichotomies that we use to explain the difference between the Perfectionist and the Optimalist. As you do mention no one seems to be either of the two extremes. ie the perfect perfectionist or perfect optimalist.
In fact, I think that it is this approach in thinking, using dichotomies that gets us into a bind. “Reality” and “fantasy” for example, when life is more a nuance in between these two concepts.

“Accept” and “reject” is another dichotomy I have difficulty with. I have written a self published book/manual called Rethink Perfect: The Upside of Uncertainty and in it I emphasise that I don’t think that we need to accept anything, only what we find to be acceptable to us.

I find that anger, falls into this category of not being acceptable from me or from others. Understandable, yes, but not acceptable. I don’t think that I can justify anger in any circumstance but I can understand how and why it occurs.

In this area of thinking, I find I am not in agreement with you on Acceptance on page 44, especially the acceptance of the emotion of anger. Anger is understandable but simply not acceptable to me.

If anger is acceptable to me, to some degree and in certain circumstances, then why would I need reduce it? I am sure you can see that by saying anger is acceptable, that I can justify my behaviour and the losing of my cool because of external forces.

In your chapter “Accepting Emotions” you mention “…fully accepting reality”.  When someone or myself loses our cool, this may be “a reality” but, to me it certainly does not  have to be “the reality”. I have spent the last 26 years learning to understand where anger comes from, all because I have not accepted such behaviour. I suspect it may take the rest of my life to further understand this and other unacceptable behaviour.

I actually think that, like creativity, anger, starts with a spark, but in this case it needs to be extinguished as soon as possible before it becomes a full blown bushfire.

Any feedback appreciated.

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1 Response to Open Email to Tal Ben-Shahar, on his book The persuit of Perfect

  1. Tal said:
    Thank you for writing. I think the difference between your “understanding” and my “acceptance” is semantic. Acceptance does not mean liking. I don’t need to like the law of gravity or the fact that a person I love is ill, but if I want to be able to deal with the situation I need to accept rather than reject/deny it.

    Des said: Thanks for getting back Tal,
    You could be right about our semantics.

    I will try to explain what I understand about Positive Psychology.
    Is it that by getting acceptance from people, it encourages us to bring these feeling out rather
    than suppress them? In this respect I agree with the use of the word however what concerns me
    about the use of the word Acceptance is that by perceiving that such emotions as jealously and anger
    are natural, as everyone has them, there is a chance that we can get the example of what you wrote
    on page 52 of : The Pursuit of Perfect

    “Our only conclusion, though, was that jealousy is natural and to some extent unavoidable.”

    That by seeing anger or jealously as ”natural” or normal, because we all do it, we can put our
    feelings and actions in the too-hard-basket and see that ultimately they are “unavoidable”, to the extent that we individually decide.

    I am in the process of accepting my anger Tal, even down to the spark of rhetoric I can sometimes use in my language.
    But I don’t accept that I cannot work on my understanding of anger, for the rest of my life to reduce such feelings and behaviour.

    So, I am sure you will agree that however we word it with “understandable” or “acceptance”, this journey of understanding ourselves is a lifelong one,
    with very few short cuts, however the insights we can share with each other can speed up things and as you put it,
    help crash the old wall structures (maybe dogma) that we build up.

    If you are interested you can read my pdf or I can post you the manual as I would really enjoy having you help me
    crash my next wall.

    Click to access rethink_perfect-combined6.pdf

    (BTW Tall, I don’t accept “laws of gravity” as such, as I don’t really understand them but I do accept the idea of falling to the ground, for now)

    Tal said:
    I get your distinction. See what I write about active acceptance i.e. emotion is accepted because it’s unavoidable, behavior is up to us. We’re in a much better position to control our actions if we truly accept. It’s OK to disagree

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