Why are we so obsessed with being perfect? And when did it stop being OK to make mistakes…? As NBC renews The Good Place for a fourth season, Stylist looks at the lessons in morality we can learn from the show.
For a seemingly lighthearted show, NBC’s The Good Place is grounded in some pretty weighty stuff. Ethics and philosophy are in the fabric of the show, packing jokes on Plato, Aristotle and Philippa Foot’s infamous trolley problem one after the other.
For the (shamefully) uninitiated, the fantasy-comedy follows the afterlife of loveable trashbag Eleanor (Kristen Bell), who finds herself misplaced by clerical error in the Good Place (as opposed to the Bad Place). Realising she wants to earn her spot in this heaven-like utopia for real, Eleanor decides to ditch her old ways and learn how to be a better person from her assigned ‘soulmate’, ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper).
Whether you believe in heaven and hell, or any kind of afterlife, TGP makes for an addictive watch. Although it may initially appear as the perfect jolly antidote to our current dystopian climate, with its charming band of misfits (including Jameela Jamil as a namedropping socialite) running amok beyond the grave, more comparisons can be drawn between the show and real life than you’d think.
‘Becoming a better person’ is at the crux of every episode, and it’s no secret we live with a constant pressure to achieve unattainable levels of perfection, striving to be the most likeable, look the most flawless and have the most enlightened views on everything.
This phenomenon becomes most apparent when we watch the demise of previously loved celebrities due to a few poorly-worded tweets. Roseanne Barr would be one example. Kathy Griffin would be another.
And whether you believe their outcomes were rightly deserved or not, there’s no denying their lives were drastically affected because, for a split second, they were not perfect. They messed up.
So why are we so obsessed with being perfect? When did it stop being OK to make mistakes?
“Perfectionism essentially reflects the fact that we think we are broken in some way,” explains Professor Sarah Niblock, chief executive of the UK Council for Psychotherapy. “Evidence suggests the increase in psychological ill-health of young people may stem from the excessive standards they hold for themselves and the harsh self-punishment they routinely engage in, and this behaviour encroaches into adulthood, too.”
With the constant public broadcasting of our lives via social media, mistakes can have a longer-lasting impact than ever before, so does social media have something to do with it, too?
“Social media encourages us to only present an idealised image of ourselves - we deliberately edit out, or conceal, the aspects of ourselves we believe won’t attract ‘likes’,” says Niblock. “But it is our culture that makes us redefine ‘perfect’ to mean ‘flawless’.”
But when we’re striving for ‘Good Place’-worthy behaviour all the time, we miss out on the valuable lessons that can be learnt from making mistakes.
“We all make mistakes, but it’s the people who are willing to take risks who learn and move forward,” adds Niblock. “Messing up in itself doesn’t make you bad - it’s how you respond to it. Being honest and open when we get things wrong and seeking to learn from our errors is actually rather attractive as it’s deeply human and authentic.
“The danger is that we repress our true selves in order to measure up to others’ expectations of us. Behind so many successful, high-achieving female executives is the niggling doubt that one day the façade will come crashing down and expose the much less impressive individual within. You cannot be a true innovator or trailblazer if you’re afraid to push back but instead prefer to people-please.”
With that being said, is it more important to be ‘good’ or to be remembered - to have made a mark, an impact?
If we live in fear of saying the wrong thing, we risk not saying anything at all. In our uncertain climate, it’s more important than ever to use our voices and speak out, but it’s so easy to shy away from stating our opinions when we’ve witnessed others face such backlash for doing so.
Of course, some opinions are better kept to ourselves (Roseanne Barr), and some people definitely deserved said backlash more than others (Roseanne Barr), however it’s a stark reminder of how quickly a life and career can come crashing down in a matter of minutes.
Yet if we don’t voice our opinions, we can’t learn. And if we can’t learn, we can’t grow. Until we discover we have a differing opinion to the person next to us, we can’t have that healthy debate that helps expand our knowledge.
So next time you feel yourself holding back because you’re scared your words might challenge the status quo, as long as they’re not going to hurt anyone, by all means, let rip. You might be right, or you might be wrong, but how will you know until you open up that discussion and explore it from all angles? We can’t live in fear of not being ‘Good Place’-worthy people all the time at the expense of not embracing and voicing our true opinions.
Anyway, Florence Nightingale, Picasso and Elvis Presley are all in TGP’s Bad Place, so it can’t be that bad, right?
Images: 2017 NBC Universal Media, LLC