Three Cultural Lenses – The Pursuit of Perfection

By David Lapin, special to Overdrive

People of different cultures all admire and idealize perfection. They differ only in how they seek it.

In researching what differentiates people, I learned more about what makes them the same than what makes them different. This is particularly so when it comes to their beliefs and values. None of the tens of thousands of people I have met and worked with in over thirty different countries has bad values.

I have explored the values of criminals in prison, of illiterate workers in Africa, CEOs and PhDs in the U.S. and Europe, and religious leaders in the Middle East and Asia; they all share the same good values. Each of them would like their children to be honest, upright, contributive members of society, who in turn will raise good families themselves.

Another interesting observation is how so many people of different cultures admire and idealize perfection. But people differ in how they seek and often demand perfection. It is helpful to think of the people you know in one of three different categories. The first category includes those people who look for perfection in objects and structures. The second contains people who believe perfection can be found only in specific ideological models. The third category comprises those who seek perfection in their relationships with others.

Think of people you know who are fanatical about the perfection of objects. They demand perfection in their living environments, their technology, their organizational and engineering structures. They feel insecure if they are not functioning within a clearly defined structure. They like society to be structured and to them social status says more about your position in society than any other criteria such as character, wisdom or personal stature. Courtesy and the observance of social norms are more critical than the free expression of honest opinion. They expect zero defects in technology, and prefer even people to operate according to predictable rules. They find it hard to operate amid any form of chaos. You might think of these people as structural people. Structural people enjoy structured music and art and associate with people who are part of their social milieu.

Then there are people who are far less concerned about the perfection of objects, structures, and technology than they are about faithfulness to the “perfect” ideological model. It may be an economic, psychological, or religious model. They are purists and will not accept a compromise or adulteration of the model. People like this are sometimes intolerant of those with different beliefs. Religious fundamental extremism (within any religion) is a clear example of this category of person. But there are also academics, for example, in scientific, economic, or psychological fields, who are equally intolerant of theories that conflict with their own beliefs. These people we’ll refer to as ideological people. Ideological people enjoy religious music, or music and art from the romantic period, and feel comfortable with people who share their beliefs.

The third category consists of people who are laid-back about structural and objective perfection, and are not obsessive about their own beliefs. To them, the quality of relationships and feelings are more important than structure, technology, outcomes and ideologies. Perfection is not about what things look like nor is it about the ideas they represent. Perfection is about what something feels like. They want to feel good in relationships; they value loyalty and family. They enjoy rhythmic music and earthy art because they can relate to them in ways that are sensory rather than clinical or intellectual. It is helpful to think of people in this group as relational.

It is dangerously stereotypical to simplistically think of every person or of a nation or ethnic group as belonging to just one of these three categories; this is not so. Rather, for the purposes of this discussion, consider people and nations to be made up of these three orientations in differing degrees. Some are heavily structural and much less ideological or relational. Others may be predominantly relational and less structural and ideological. No nationality is composed exclusively of one of these cultural perspectives.

David Lapin, rabbi and corporate advisor, is CEO of Lapin International, a leadership consulting company that helps organizations develop inspirational leaders and self-driven teams that outperform the competition.  Lapin is the author of LEAD BY GREATNESS: How Character Can Power Your Success. Lapin has earned the respect of global business leaders from his unique ability to identify a business’s most current strategic opportunities and operational challenges while understanding and unraveling the complex dynamics of the human spirit. This ability, combined with his uncompromising position on growing revenue and maximizing profit, places him in the mastery category among international speakers, thought leaders, and organizational advisors. For more information, please visit

 Excerpted with permission of the publisher Avoda Books from LEAD BY GREATNESS: How Character Can Power Your Success by David Lapin. Copyright © 2012 by David Lapin.

Categories: general


Leave a Comment

  • (will not be published)