Monday, August 14, 2006

Perfect Day

Thoughts on happiness, perfection, and the connection between the two were on my mind at work today. To be completely honest, it started yesterday morning as I served cantankerous people food and listened to them immediately complain and openly scorn me. At first I was frustrated and irritated; what right did those people have to come to my restaurant and then dispense ill-will at little offense? However, it suddenly occured to me after listening to a man complain that his food was cold and he had waited nearly twenty minutes for it, so he didn't want it to be sent back, but he certainly didn't expect to be paying for all of it, even though he was going to be eating it (note-this man also happened to come in ten minutes before we stopped serving breakfast and already had a room full of people who had already ordered. The first thing he did when I brought his food to him was touch it to check the temperature, as soon as I had put the plate down. Subtle, buddy. Real subtle.), it occured to me then that my happiness was not contingent on his.
He didn't like the service he recieved.
Was that my fault? Was that my problem?
No and no.
I surely did commiserate with the poor soul; nobody likes to be kept waiting even when it is unintentional. The difference was that I didn't really care if he was happy or not. That fact was not going to change the outlook I had on my day. This might be a bit of a dangerous attitude by which to venture deeper into the food service employment chain, but I trust that I can wield it properly. I don't think that it is nihilism or apathy for customer satisfaction, just a reaffirmation of priorities. And my priority is my own happiness.


On that note, let us turn to the connection of happiness and perfection. See, what is perfect is not always happy, and what is happy is not always perfect. Originally I was trying to think about what constitutes perfection and how to quantify or even vocalize the conception of perfection. There was this whole other tangential train of thought looking at the relationship between perfection and excellence and whether one was a subordination of the other or if the two operated in soleley autonomous spheres, but that is not the topic of right now, save to mention that excellence is a near semblance of perfection, but perfection is not excellence. Anyway, let us think of a cheeseburger with frenchfries. I love cheeseburgers. They make me quite happy. Even now, with dinner in the oven and a cup of coffee by my chair, just thinking about a juicy cheeseburger, richly melted cheddar cheese topped with crisp onions and pickles, thick slices of tomato, some fresh lettuce and a grilled kaiser bun dressed with a liberal helping of mayonnaise makes me salivate with happiness. Add in a side order of golden-brown frenchfries with a healthy (or not so healthy in one way of looking at it) helping of salt and you have yourself the cornerstone of an amazing meal. This cheeseburger is by no means widely regarded as emblematic of art, either high or low, but it is with all certainty, aesthetically pleasing to view. Something about how the tomato peeks out from underneath the fringe of lettuce, and there is just a hint of the pickle hidden in the middle. The way the golden-brown fries are tumbled helter-skelter like lincoln logs. The way the grease glistens in a soft sheen on the burger patty. These things just add up and you know that this is, without a doubt, a perfect burger. It makes you happy, and even more than that, you know that the cook who made this burger was also made happy by its perfection. Can one ascertain that the creation of perfection yields happiness? And furthermore, if this perfection is repeated over and over a countless number of times to the point at which it is no longer an awesome feat to achieve perfection, then the does the failure to attain the same quality of finished product result in unhappiness? Do the standards of perfection rely upon both the artist and the viewer?
I think that there must be a measure of impartiality when viewing art. The seasoned cook makes a perfect burger everytime and is aware of his skill, but thinks little of it, except to acknowledge that others find it remarkable. The junior cook makes a cheeseburger and thinks it to be the most aesthetically pleasing thing he has ever created, even when the diner percieves it to be less so than the casual masterpiece of the seasoned cook. So, then, does an artist have a wildly different view of the finished product, due to personal bias of either favor or unfavor? Maybe so, but in the end it might not matter. Just so long as everyone is happy in some matter or another, whether or not it comes from perfection.


Blogger Dolen said...

I can't believe you guys are still blogging! Go Will! I love this entry on perfection and happiness. I can't help but think that these are two different philosophical issues that need to first be thought out separately. First, we must consider what we mean when we talk about "happiness." Secondly, we must consider what we mean when we talk about "perfection." For example, Kant denies that happiness can be defined objectively. As for perfection, there's a decent Wikipedia entry under "perfection" that teases out some uses of the term. Read the part on "aesthetic perfection" which defines it as "harmony." Let me know what you think...

11:24 AM  
Blogger China said...

That cheeseburger is yelling a big "hark!" at me right now.

I also can't believe we all thought to blog this summer.

Anyhow, that Wikipedia entry on aesthetic perfection reminded me much too much of Paul Loeb's Ancient Philosophy class, and I'm tired, but this part seemed best and most appropriate:

Renaissance aesthetics placed less emphasis than had classical aesthetics on the unity of things perfect. Baldassare Castiglione, in his Courtier, wrote, of Leonardo, Andrea Mantegna, Raphael, Michelangelo and Giorgione, that "each of them is unlike the others, but each is the most perfect [perfectissimus] in his style."

The thing that stuck with me in your post was the idea of whether overly attainable perfection would make anything less a disappointment. I don't necessarily think this would be the case, unless we were automatically drawn to the best and only the best. Thing is, opinions and desires are subjective and we're lucky enough to be allowed the changing and evolving of ideas as we please. And if we come to think of something as perfect, we're allowed to change our mind about its perfection at any point because our taste might change. Frankly, humans get bored quickly. So, if there are too many perfect versions of one object, I don't think we'd come to think of imperfect versions as inferior, I just think we'd come to prefer something different so that it can't be compared to the object that is easily made perfect. In cheeseburger speak, suppose everyone is capable of a perfect cheeseburger (lettuce, tomato, slice of cheddar, kaiser bun, cooked well). And let's say you get used to eating these perfect cheeseburgers. But one day, your usual restaurant happens to substitute American for cheddar, or accidentally make your burger medium instead of well. This may not be your perfect burger, but it's something new; American melts into meat more fluidly than cheddar, and medium is more tender than well. You might be dissatisfied because it's not a work of edible perfection, but you might certainly find this new burger oddly refreshing because it's got a different flavor or texture.

People like variety, and that's why we're not all attracted to the same types of people, or the same living conditions, or the same types of music. And for this I'd gladly go along with the idea of what is "perfect for a style." I think perfection can make you happy if you're in the mood for that particular perfect thing, but if your idea of perfect is different from the universal "perfect," perfect doesn't necessarily equal happiness. If everyone in the world looked like Brad Pitt, who is apparently perfect, I would be dissatisfied and hope for someone "imperfect" to come along because I'd crave the variety. Same goes for food, because you can only eat a cheddar burger for so long, regardless of how amazing it is.

Wow, I'm really not sure if that solved anything. But hopefully it helped. Back later.

11:38 AM  

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