Utopia is a concept that has fascinated creatives and masterminds for centuries. There are many different works out there focused on the idea of creating a utopia or surviving a utopia or what to do when a utopia goes awry. Let’s look at all of the dystopian books and movies out there today, each of these centers on what happens after a utopia falls apart, as is prone to happen because people are involved.
And yet, so many of us are still focused on trying to create perfection for ourselves. Perfect spouse. Perfect job. Perfect house. Perfect car. Perfect friends. Perfect kids. Perfect life. We’re trying to create our own versions of paradise for ourselves and others, but what if this is not the noble goal we’ve made it out to be?
In To Shake the Sleeping Self, Jedidiah Jenkins records his 14,000-mile bike ride from Oregon to Patagonia and all of the lessons he learned along the way. One of his stops, at the beginning of his journey, was in Santa Barbara where he was able to stay with some friends and rest as he was adjusting to the whole biking nonstop for days on end thing.
About the city, he writes: “This kind of perfection can breed something like arrogance in those who live there. I have met many lovely people from Santa Barbara, but I don’t think I would raise my children there. I’m not sure any of us are at our best living in paradise.” p. 58.
I had always thought of paradise as a goal worth working toward. I had pictured paradise as the place where people would be kind and it would the perfect environment for them to flourish. I mean, who wouldn’t want to raise their kids in paradise? Who wouldn’t want to make things as perfect as possible for the people they cared about? Wouldn’t keeping other from that be reckless or, at the least, mean-spirited? Shouldn’t we withhold nothing good from those around us?
But then I thought about his statement some more and I think Jed might be on to something. I don’t know that I would want to live in paradise. To start out with, as difficult as it is to admit, I’m not perfect, so introducing me into a perfect environment would make it not perfect.
More than that, in paradise, or a utopia, there’s this idea of not working. Everything is easy. Things are handed to you. You’ve got it made in the shade. But the truth is that there’s something beautiful about the reward of a consistent and concerted effort toward a goal. Achievement feels so satisfying when you’ve had to overcome some major obstacles along the way.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 (ESV)
If we were living in paradise, there would be every reason for complacency and no push for growth. If everything is great and “as it should be” why would we ever risk anything to grow? Or step outside our comfort zone to follow a dream? There’s no reason for ingenuity or creativity to exist in paradise. There’s no motivation to change in paradise.
What if, instead of seeking paradise, we devoted ourselves to growing in the middle of our wildly imperfect world? And, what would happen if we dared to see the beauty in the imperfections, instead of bemoaning the things that aren’t as we wish them to be? I have a long way to go in this area, but I’m grateful for this alternate viewpoint that has encouraged me to see the world differently.
Do you think that people are at their best in paradise?
How can you embrace the beauty of the imperfections around you today?
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