Lately I have been musing about how people define their terms. A long time ago, I read somewhere that most arguments boil down to differences in how people define things. That simple concept has always stuck with me, and I have often found it to be the case in arguments I have been a part of. Of course, having that perspective does not always solve the argument, because people can cling pretty ferociously to their personal definitions. At that point the argument often distills into a debate over whose definition is more accurate. I strive to be very specific in defining my terms when getting into an argument, so that the real issue at hand can be addressed. It is always gratifying when the argument is solved by acknowledging differing terminologies.
Let’s bring this discussion into focus with a specific example. Today I saw a bumper sticker that said “Next time you think you’re perfect, try walking on water.” Given the opportunity, I would have asked the driver of the car how he or she defined “perfect.” Perfection, in my definition, is attainable. You can bake a perfect cake, or turn a perfect cartwheel, or find the perfect gift for someone. Perhaps this could be considered a sort of proletarian definition of the concept, but certainly I am not the only one who uses it in this way. As for the bumper sticker, it got me thinking about the nature of perfection. Since when does perfection include the ability to perform supernatural acts? I believe that there is no such thing as the supernatural or the paranormal – there is only the natural and the normal, and things we haven’t explained yet. Given that walking on water is humanly impossible, how can that enter into the definition of perfection? Of course the logical conclusion is that perfection is also humanly impossible, hence the unspoken but clear context of the sticker: Only God/Jesus is perfect, and don’t you forget it, you flawed sinner you! This goes back to an old post on LiveJournal when I ranted about a different, but related, bumper sticker. What gives with people and the religious blame game? I’d like to define my terms: human beings can be perfect. We came up with the whole concept of perfect. We also invented the hocus pocus that positioned god/gods as the frame of reference for perfection (and incidentally gave us an out to explain all those “paranormal” and “supernatural” phenomena, such as, say, lightning, for which we had yet to find a natural explanation). Well, I have decided to reclaim the definition of perfection. You don’t have to walk on water to be perfect; you only have to do the absolute best that you can with what you are given, with the circumstances in which you find yourself, in your relationships with other people, and with your life in general, and those moments of perfect will happen.