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On Google’s website, the “Our Culture” section explains the company’s culture: “Our offices and cafes are designed to encourage interactions between Googlers within and across teams, and to spark conversation about work as well as play.” In a sense, this almost sounds like a description of a company retreat rather than daily life in the office. The intention is to bring everyone together to build company community in order to produce the best work.
Phrases like this echo nowadays just about everywhere you go. We hear them in the College, the various student organizations, churches, sport clubs, schools, apartment buildings, offices, families, and friends. All of these sections of our social jungle use buzz-phrases promising community. They claim to “foster community” and allow us to “grow together.”
This vocabulary is meant to catch you, pull you in, and make you feel comfortable that there are people who will be there for you. There is a romantic nudge in these promises where community seems to solve all our problems. The people within your given community are destined to be your best friends.
But the reality is, community dwelling can be strikingly uncomfortable. The conversations at Google on a day-to-day basis, the ones left unreported on the website, may not always be the most amiable. Relationships are not always glamorous; they can be hard and humbling as people do not always get along. People disagree. People mess-up, drop the ball, and wrong each other.
In a recent BBC period series entitled, “Call The Midwife,” an order of Anglican nuns practice midwifery alongside their fearless nurse assistants, bringing new life into the very poor, decaying East End of London. There was one episode where the words of the main character speak to the unromantic realities of relationship. One New Year’s Eve, this quote took on a deeper meaning for me. It became more than words I simply admired as it transformed my understanding of what it means to really live among others.
That night my coworker said some very unkind things to another coworker who was also my best friend. Rude comments are never okay, and after the debacle, I was outraged. I planned to confront the offender. I thoughtfully envisioned myself exploding with angry axioms of why he acted horribly, had wronged my friend, and had wronged me.
But the next morning, my friend and I received an email of striking apology.
“I ruined an otherwise perfect night and I am truly sorry.”
This emailed breathed with honest remorse. Reading the apology of a person with his tail between his legs, the words from the nuns of the East End reprised in my mind:
“Perfection is not a polished thing. It is often simply something that is sincerely meant. Perfection is a job complete. Praise given. Prayer heard. It can be kindness shown, thanks of the dark. Perfection is what we discover in each other, what we see reflected back. And if perfection eludes us that doesn't matter for what we have within the moment is enough.”
My relationship with the offender and the offended grew after a moment of tension. I can’t really explain how or why, but it did. Imperfection sat in the midst perfectly good work and good times and it was unexpectedly uniting. I realized that my desire to inflict justice upon my fellow man, while not entirely wrong, was unnecessary. He knew he had been hurtful before I was there to convince him.
At the end of the day, we really are all human and full of paradoxes. We can be remarkably good, and remarkably horrible, sometimes within the same moment. When we live in community, when we are really looking, we will see not only the good and the bad in others, but more potently, we will see it in ourselves.
So even though they never tell us the whole story, advertisements of community are necessary to give us the vision that community is really good. But we must keep in mind that people will be people. They will fight and fall and fail. But the trick is: We need them and they need us. We yell at coworkers because we have a need to understand that there are dark places within ourselves that must succumb to light. We need to be the friend of an offended coworker so that we can be outraged and angry on their behalf, but also so we can experience the disarming and slightly terrifying reality of forgiveness.
You are needed, and you need. Be satisfied with that, but don’t be satisfied with simply surviving in community, not letting anyone know your true self. Go live among your community in whatever shape it takes and know that it’s not always going to be perfect or romantic, but as Dean Khurana has said many times, it can be transformative and good. And maybe that’s where the truth about perfection lies in the end.
Brynn A. Elliott ’18 is a Crimson editorial writer living in Currier House.
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