Our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.

Bryan Stevenson

Welcome to Day Five of Embrace Imperfection

Research reveals that seeing and allowing others’ imperfections can draw us together in “recognition of our shared humanity,” and when we feel connected to our fellow humans we are more likely to take action on their behalf. Couple this with releasing the need to be perfect in all things, and it turns out that embracing imperfection frees you up to work for change. Rather than wilting under the weight of the world’s struggles because there’s no imaginable way to perfectly solve an issue, you are empowered to make your individual contribution. In Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit recalls the way that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, hundreds of individual boat owners saved countless people stranded in the flooding waters. She writes, “None of them said, ‘I can’t rescue everyone, therefore it’s futile; therefore my efforts are flawed and worthless.’” As is true with many of the world’s current crises, the situation was far from perfect, as were the rescue efforts. But for the people whose lives were saved? It was everything. Embracing imperfection allows you to move from hopelessness to action, from despair to contribution.

Begin by watching and listening to these fabulous musicians from around the world singing Ben Harper’s With My Own Two Hands. The focus of this Playing for Change video is on alleviating poverty, but as you listen, consider what need or issue in your own community or beyond may be calling for your care.

Today’s Practice: With My Own Two Hands

Br. David Steindl-Rast reminds us that we discover aliveness through mutual connection and that our “full aliveness means being awake to the responsibility we have in the face of the Great Mystery, but also the responsibility we have in the face of the community…” We cannot be fully awake, fully alive, he writes, “if we sleep through our responsibility to the public good.” For each of us this looks different; we resonate with particular needs in our communities and we possess unique capacities and skills to make our contribution.

Taking inspiration from the video above, today’s practice invites you to identify a particular need that is beckoning you to act on its behalf. Your action — however imperfect it may feel in light of the struggle all around us — matters. It’s a way of being fully alive.

Step One: Focus on One Thing That Is Calling for Your Care

It’s impossible to respond to all the concerns that matter to you, and trying to do so can leave you too overwhelmed to take any action at all. For today’s practice, attune to one specific need where you’d like to contribute. 

  • Is there an issue or concern in your local community, family, or circle of friends that is important to you?
  • If you want to contribute to a global cause, consider what group or entity could help you connect tangibly to this large-scale issue.

Take a few moments to identify where you want to show up differently as you embrace imperfection.

Step Two: Identify How You Want to Contribute

Creating change “with your own two hands” isn’t limited to traditional forms of activism; it can also include — as the song reminds us — offering comfort, safety, and softness to those around you. These actions build meaningful connections and a sense of belonging that contribute to the public good. Take a moment to reflect on the following: 

  • How do you want to put your two hands — and head and heart — to work?  What is possible for you?
  • Are you drawn to activism in the traditional sense — writing letters, calling elected officials, offering financial support? Or are you called to contribute through your daily encounters — extending compassion to someone in need, listening, sharing kindness?

After you’ve taken time to identify your what and your how, today’s invitation is to let go of the need to do this perfectly. When you wait to act on behalf of the needs around you, the world goes on as it is, without the benefit of your singular, unique contribution.

Today’s Action to Embrace Imperfection: Rooted in compassion and liberated from the idea that there’s a perfect way to take action, trust that the imperfect lifeboat you’re helping build with your own two hands may make a life-changing difference for someone.

Scroll to the bottom of the page (or click here) to find the Community Conversation space where we invite you to share your reflections. You may also record an audio or video response to our video invitation below.

Deepening Resource

Awaken by Reflections of Life

In this very touching video by Reflections of Life, Antony Osler shares how he remains present to the world’s injustices through compassion. He says, “My job as a human being is to wake up and find my real connection with this universe and all the people in it, including their suffering. I take a breath, I hear the cries of this world, and I stand up again and go out…Sometimes it may be obviously more charitable stuff — donation here, looking after the elderly. Sometimes it’s just listening to someone else. We’re not talking of fireworks in the sky and angelic choirs. We’re talking of you and me meeting each other so that compassion is not a romantic ideal that one is measuring oneself against, but simply an expression of the fullness of this moment.” 

Research Highlight

Dr. Brené Brown’s research reminds us that our sense of connection and belonging to one another depends on showing up authentically, imperfections and all. She writes: “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because the yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., 2010

Photo by Dan Meyers