Living with Imperfection

People live in imperfect situations. Albert Otto Hirschman wrote about the daily choice of exit, voice and loyalty. We can leave, act to improve or find the advantage in staying. None of these options is better or worse than another. People with partial views may prefer one or other options and make claims for the virtue of one or other option.

I have written about the virtue of leaving. Many leaders have left their communities for a while to spend time in “the wilderness”, the university or outside their usual comfort zone and cultural context where they may gain wisdom and skills. If they return to their communities, they can use their new perspectives to help others or at least to live more gracefully with imperfection. Leaving can also be about safety. Sometimes staying in an imperfect situation can lead to greater harm than staying. Sometimes a strong person leaving the situation means the weaker ones are left vulnerable.

Acting to improve a situation, is about assuming responsibility. We can negotiate, mediate, passively resist and suggest appropriate alternatives. This can be an unpopular path and usually quite political. Socially engaged Buddhists have taken this path. Greenpeace, Amnesty International and others also choose the ‘voice’ option. This path requires a lot of strength and determination. The effectiveness of this option depends on right view, knowing how to apply effort in the right place. The middle path avoids extremes and travels deep beneath appearances. Some ill informed interventions can be harmful and make situations worse rather than better.

Finding the advantage in staying is about having a positive perspective. In a Buddhist context, this means practicing the four Brahmavihaara – divine abodes of metta-loving-kindness, karunaa-compassion, muditaa-sympathetic joy and upekkhaa-equanimity. Sometimes staying in a challenging situation can provide an opportunity for development. It depends on what we want to learn. All situations are subject to change.

Starting with right view all three options are viable. With right view a person will know what to do and when to act.


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