Is it better to avoid sin or do good?
Do our standards impede our work
The other day I was talking with Nathan Cheever on the topic of failing to get our work to meet our desired standards. In the discussion the point came up that when we relax our standards a bit we are able to “get things done” much better than when we try to adhere to them.
Of course this gave me a conundrum. The idea of “Relax your standards” doesn’t really seem like good life advice. I mean, what is the point of standards if you abandon them at your earliest convineience? But it was hard to argue with the experience I’ve had in my own life.
For example when it comes to coding, I have found that the times that I relax my standards for architecture and design, I’m finally able to finish up the work and advance my skills.
Well I was thinking about this and, the question above popped into my head. Is it better to avoid sin, or do good? I don’t know what your initial reaction to it is, but it cleared up my confusion.
The point, as I think about it, is that, it is better to act, and possibly make a mistake, rather than refrain from acting, to avoid making a mistake.
Søren Kierkegaard indicates that this is a key difference between being passionate and reflective. He say’s that:
It is not uncommon to hear a man…thinking that he could easily act if the situation were a great event with only one either/or. This is a mistake and a hallucination of the understanding. There is no such situation. The presence of the crucial either/or depends upon the individuals own impassioned desire directed toward acting decisively 1
He argues that passionate action embodies the “principle of contradiction”, whereas reflective action does not. He means that while one can certainly make mistakes by acting decisively, we will know when we have made those mistakes. It is when we cautiously try to feel out the exact correct path that we miss out on the feedback. We never escape the darkness of insecurity because we are to afraid to step into the light of failure.
Standards should drive our work
The Saviour taught almost the same exact lesson, in the parable of the talents2. It was not the servants who risked the talents they were given, but the one who cautiously sought to guard it that was called wicked and slothful. The Lord gave his life for us, not so that we could cower in fear of making a mistake, but so we could have “the spirit…of power”3 to “[go] about doing good”4. If we make a mistake, he has provided ways to correct them, but, as Kirkegaard argues we cannot know our mistakes, if we never try to act.
So, in short, the reason why we are able to progress faster when we feel like we “relax our standards”, is not because we have abandoned them, but because we have finally embraced them, and are passionately trying to reach them through action. This action often means we will fail to live up to the standards we have set for ourselves. But in so doing, we identify through experience how we can better act in the future.